1. Did you (or anyone) expect to be 4-2 at this point in the season? Are you all overachieving or is this Raiders team really that good?
I certainly didn't expect them to be 4-2 at this point. I had them losing both of the games they pulled out by one point (on the road against the Saints and Ravens). There have been surprises on both sides of the ball. The defense has been surprisingly bad and the offense's ability to put up big numbers late in the game has been shocking as well. Mainly because at the end of last season that was flipped. The defense finished strong with the offense sputtering. Then in the offseason, they added players who were supposed to improve things further in Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin. The schedule will get tougher as the second half of the season gets here so they will have to figure out their defensive issues because the offense can't always bail them out, as we discovered last week in the 26-10 loss to the Chiefs.
2. The Jaguars and Raiders started rebuilding right around the same time and in the same way at points. What are the key differences in how you've seen the Jaguars and Raiders rebuild? Can we say definitively Derek Carr vs. Blake Bortles is settled or do we need to wait until the end of the year?
Well, they both certainly had a lot of money to spend and several areas of great need. The Jaguars seem to have taken a few players the Raiders were either after themselves or should have been. Players like Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick. The difference is the Jaguars had insane amounts of money to spend, and broke the bank to ensure they got their guys. The Raiders focused in on one big money guy (Kelechi Osemele) and wouldn't get into bidding wars for the other players.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "settled" between Carr and Bortles, but I'll take a stab at it. I have seen different opinions on which of the two quarterbacks is better. Though most would say Derek Carr and for the most part the numbers bear that out. They are the only two quarterbacks in that draft class that can still be directly compared. Johnny Manziel pulled a Brown note, Teddy Bridgewater may not play for two years, and Jimmy Garoppolo has been and will continue to sit behind Tom Brady. And for Carr and Bortles, I would give it until the end of this season at least before we settle anything. They could both be very good quarterbacks and after that, it doesn't really matter much.
3. How do you like Jack Del Rio as a coach? What is he able to do that has this Raiders team looking better than it has in a long time?
First and foremost, it was his gutsy calls on a few plays that had the Raiders pull out those two close wins. Going for two to win it against the Saints instead of kicking an extra point to tie. That was the first one. He had others against the Ravens as well as against the Chargers two weeks ago. There is also something to be said for a coach that comes home to coach the team of which he grew up a fan. You know it means more to him. His experience in the league both as a player and a coach also earns him respect among the players. That has been in short supply for a while in Oakland.
4. Is there a Jaguars player on either side of the ball that you say, "If the Raiders don't stop him, we're in trouble"?
I was hoping you could tell me that. But if I must, and at the risk of choosing the obvious, I will say Blake Bortles. The Raiders have the NFL's worst pass defense. Well, technically they have the NFL's worst defense overall. But the pass defense is slightly worse than the rush defense. With the Jaguars' not putting up great numbers on the ground, combined with the vulnerability of the Raiders pass D, Bortles will look to pick it apart just like 5 of the 6 quarterbacks they've faced already this season. The key could be offering some semblance of a pass rush, which they haven't done much of this season.
5. What's gonna happen on Sunday? Will it be a back-and-forth match-up? Will the Jaguars surprise and get to 3-3? Will Jack Del Rio eat all of our souls?
There will be some back and forth. But if it's anything like the Raiders’ four wins this season, that back and forth will come late. The interesting part of all this is three of the Raiders' four wins have come on the road with a 10am Pacific start time -- New Orleans, Tennessee, and Baltimore. Both of their losses came at home -- Falcons, Chiefs. Del Rio said himself that he thinks the team plays better on the road because they bond more traveling and eating together. Also that the offense is prepared for crowd noise, while the defense can communicate better because it's quiet when the take the field. It's a very interesting twist. I think the Raiders will win with the Jaguars falling short late. Raiders 30, Jaguars 23.