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Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer (3) takes a snap against the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter at the O.co Stadium in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, October 23, 2011. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

Coach Hue Jackson and the rest of the Raiders had good reason to howl with joy at the sight of Philip Rivers fumbling away a San Diego victory Monday night.

They had to figure that catastrophic error would doom the Chargers, who were not going to win in Kansas City, in overtime, on Halloween night, against the energized Chiefs.

That would mean, for the Raiders, a share of first place.

Oakland couldn't have wished for a better outcome than Kansas City's victory in OT, creating a three-way tie atop the AFC West. The Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders each approach the halfway point of the season with 4-3 records.

The Raiders, though, have the easiest path to the division title.

And they pretty much have to win it to justify Jackson's daring trade for unemployed quarterback Carson Palmer.

Palmer was acquired from Cincinnati on Oct. 18 with one purpose: get the Raiders through the 2011 regular season and into the postseason. Anything less means Jackson will take a loss on the bet made upon dealing away Oakland's No. 1 draft pick in 2012 and a No. 1 or No. 2 pick in 2013.

The veteran quarterback spent much of the bye week working out with Raiders running backs and receivers, trying to become familiar with his teammates and establish timing and rhythm. If nothing else, those involved believe it helped.


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Palmer, 31, was a Pro Bowl player who tailed off after sustaining injuries to his knee and shoulder. His demand to be traded by Cincy led to questions about his desire and maturity, though I can't blame anyone for being frustrated with notoriously clumsy and cheap Bengals management.

So Palmer's legacy is at stake. He surely realizes that. Then, too, he badly wants to satisfy the coach he has known since the late 1990s, when Jackson, then a USC assistant, helped recruit him.

His opportunity is here. It's all better now, after Rivers pushed the Chargers into position for a short, game-winning field goal in the final seconds -- only to lose a fumble.

The Denver Broncos are coming to Oakland, which means Palmer will be trying to resurrect his career and rejuvenate the Raiders against a team led by Tim Tebow, whose impersonation of an NFL quarterback is a wicked joke on Broncos fans.

Palmer -- and Jackson -- should consider this a gift from the football gods.

If the Raiders were given a chance to reschedule their final nine games, in any order they like, they would pick the Broncos at home this Sunday.

Meanwhile, Kansas City will get the calm -- Miami and Denver at Arrowhead Stadium -- before a five-week tornado -- at New England, Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at the New York Jets, Green Bay.

If the Chiefs somehow remain in contention after this brutal stretch, and it's more likely they won't, their reward is a game at home against the Raiders on Christmas Eve.

The Chargers, trying to recover from a devastating road loss, come home to a face full of the unbeaten defending champion Packers, followed four days later by the Raiders going into Qualcomm Stadium on a Thursday night.

San Diego's schedule doesn't turn truly nasty until December, when it gets Buffalo (at home), Baltimore (home) and Detroit (away) on successive Sundays, before ending the regular season in ... Oakland.

If the Raiders are going to make their move, as Jackson keeps insisting they will, they had better start now. Their toughest remaining games outside the division, at Green Bay and a home game against the Lions, are in mid-December.

If Palmer is the quarterback Jackson thinks he is, and Oakland's defense can keep it together, the Raiders will be good enough to win four of their next five -- and maybe all five. The key to a sweep is beating the Chargers on Nov. 10.

The first AFC West team to reach nine wins should take the division. The Raiders conceivably get there Dec. 4, when they go to Miami.

Through good and bad, approval or dissent, Jackson has been consistent about wanting to win now. That explains the deal for linebacker Aaron Curry and the deal for Palmer; the signing this week of cornerback Lito Sheppard was a natural move based on need.

The trade for Palmer destroyed all middle ground for this team, immediately sending the season out to the extremes. There will be no chance at mediocrity in Oakland, no matter what the record.

This season will end in the playoffs, making it a rousing success.

Or it will end on New Year's Day against the Chargers, with Rivers getting the last laugh, in which case 2011 in Oakland would qualify as an unmitigated failure.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.