It's a strange time to be an Oakland Raiders fan, caught in between feelings of optimism birthed in 2010 and 2011 and pessimism swirling throughout the offseason.
On one hand, the Raiders are coming off (easily) their best two seasons in a decade, winning eight games and competing for the division title in each of the last two seasons. In fact, in 2011, the Raiders were 7-4 before losing four of their final five games.
Then, the offseason happened.
Needing to shred bad contracts and still paying the price for risky trades, the Raiders were forced to part with numerous 2011 difference-makers. Among the toughest losses were the team's two top cornerbacks, Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt, and their most reliable running back, Michael Bush. The team also lost quarterback Jason Campbell.
While most teams have to deal with the war of attrition during the offseason, unlike most other teams, the Raiders were without any draft picks before the end of the third round. While most teams could have turned to free agency to make some waves, the Raiders and new general manager Reggie McKenzie were also well over the salary cap.
So with limited money and few draft picks, McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen did their best. Among the best moves made were defensive backs Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, two players who have considerable upside given their discounted price.
The Raiders were also able to retain some of their top players, including defensive standout Tyvon Branch.
For most fans, however, all of this seems too much to process at once.
To recap, a Raiders team on the verge of the playoffs in 2011 has a new coach, a new roster and the same quarterback. Where does that leave them?
Well, here are five reasons to believe all of that could add up to an AFC West title if things fall the right way.