What is going on in the NFL this season? The Oakland Raiders, who went 3-13 last season, are 2-1 in 2015, and only one game back of the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. Sure, their wins are over the 1-2 Cleveland Browns, and the 1-3 Baltimore Ravens, and there is still a lot of football left to play this season, but I doubt many people had the Raiders getting off to a 2-1 start before the season began. All of this allows us to ask a legitimate question. Are the Oakland Raiders a playoff team this season?
There actually are legitimate reasons for Raiders fans to be optimistic, like quarterback Derek Carr playing well in his second season (57-of-90 for 726 yards and five touchdowns, with one interception) behind some great protection by his offensive line. Carr has been sacked only once in three games so far this season.
Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper is proving he was well worth the number four overall pick Oakland used to draft him this year. The former Alabama Crimson Tide wideout has amassed 20 receptions for 290 yards and a touchdown already in this young season. Cooper had over 100 yards receiving in each of Oakland’s last two games, becoming just the second rookie in the past 30 years to have back-to-back 100-yards receiving games in his first three games.
So there are reasons to be hopeful if you’re a fan of the Raiders, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Raiders haven’t won nine games since 2002 (the team’s last trip to the Super Bowl), and since then they have had two 8-8 seasons, and won five for fewer games in 10 seasons, including only three wins in 2014. Improving from the three wins they had last season to a playoff spot would be extremely difficult. Plus, I know they play the Chicago Bears this Sunday, but the Raiders’ schedule isn’t exactly really easy after that.
The Black and Silver also aren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut. Defensively they currently rank last in total yards per game (414.7), 30th in pass yards per game (323.0), and 28th in points per game (28.7). They are much better against the run, allowing only 91.7 yards per game (11th). But this is a passing league, and the Raiders must improve against the pass, and in total defense, if they truly want to improve enough to make the playoffs.
Time will tell if Peyton Manning and the Broncos are actually as good as their 3-0 start suggests, and if the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs can improve upon their 1-2 starts. But when you try to project what will happen over the rest of the season, it is difficult to believe the Raiders will play well enough to win the AFC West.
There is good reason for Raiders fans to be optimistic about the future, but let’s keep in mind this fact. With how hot the Raiders have looked the past two weeks, they are still favored by only three and a half points against a Bears team that is so horrible they went into fire sale mode this week, and who will possibly be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler. The Raiders might be much improved from last season, and from their horrible play since 2002, but I need to see way more before I can confidently predict they will make the playoffs. I think they’ll finish with around seven wins this season, and that won’t be good enough to win the division or secure a wild card spot.