The Oakland Raiders finally have a team that is ready to win.
After their Super Bowl loss in 2002, they won at most five games from 2003-2009. Raider fans wanted to crawl into that Black Hole to hide.
But, fresh off a decent 2011 campaign in which they reached eight wins for a second consecutive season, the Raiders have the parts in place to make a playoff run.
Oakland fans have sustained years of torment, but the time has come to make a playoff run. (Maybe the team across the bay could share a little good fortune, too...?)
Here are five reasons the Raiders will make a playoff run in the 2012-13 NFL season.
Carson Palmer may not have had the most stellar 2011 season, but he certainly had glimpses of the former Pro Bowler that he was.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore possess the ability to run circles around defenders and are legitimate deep threats that are only getting better. The combination of their speed and Carson Palmer’s accurate deep ball is deadly.
And with Darren McFadden coming out of the backfield, opposing defenses must respect screen passes as well.
It may be easy to forget how good the former first pick and 2005 AFC Player of the Year was, but he is only 32—an age that is roughly the prime for quarterbacks.
On top of the improved passing game the Raiders will have in 2012, they have one of the best players in the NFL at the running back position: Darren McFadden.
Yes, he may be at risk for injury, but so is every other running back in the league. Adrian Peterson—widely considered the best in the league—had an injury-shortened season just last year.
And don’t forget who was leading the NFL in rushing in the beginning of 2012 before getting injured—yup, it was McFadden.
With Michael Bush gone, it is McFadden's backfield.
If he can stay on the field, the former Arkansas star will lead the league in rushing.
With McFadden and Palmer leading the way, the Raiders will be a sleeper with one of the most well-balanced offenses in the NFL.
This future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, is undoubtedly one of the greatest to play the game. But coming off of a year that was lost to injury and also has a risk of limiting his performance this year, Manning will not be the Super Bowl winner we remember.
This only favors the Raiders.
With that in mind, the Broncos will probably be better with Manning dropping back, but there will be growing pains.
This slow start favors the Oakland Raiders, who look to come out of the gates ready to go. They haven’t forgotten the final game last year that cost them a postseason bid.
In a year the Broncos will probably hover around .500; the Raiders should be able to get nine or 10 wins.
You’re probably rolling your eyes thinking, "Kickers and punters can’t impact a game that much." While that is true for most teams, the Raiders are not one of them.
A 50-yard field goal is nearly a guarantee with Sebastian Janikowski. He shares the league record for longest field goal at 63 yards and attempted one from 76 yards out in a game last year. Of course, it didn’t quite make it—but the wind was going against him.
Janikowski is the only kicker where a field goal like that would be even remotely possible.
He shrinks the field for the offense in his ability to nail 50-yarders consistently, putting less pressure on the Raiders offense to hold long drives.
Then there’s Shane Lechler, the punter who leads all current NFL players in career average. Lechler lengthens the field for opposing offenses, allowing Oakland’s defense more leeway to give up a couple first downs without the offense being in scoring range.
And he is a seven-time Pro Bowler, nine-time All-Pro, and was named to the 2000s' All-Decade team.
You get the picture; he is a beast.
Defense is definitely the weakness that could hold back the high-octane offense, good kicking and solid special teams (led by return threat Jacoby Ford).
That said, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly do work holding down the defensive line. They are some of the best at putting pressure on the quarterback. Both stand 6’6” tall and can bat down passes as well as field goals.
Again, their offense has a huge upside—they could the best in the AFC West. If they can pull together an average defense, watch out. After cleaning house in the front office, it’s the beginning of a new era in Oakland.
This new era is ready to renew validity to an old slogan:
Just win, baby.