The Oakland Raiders haven't made the playoffs since 2002, but after coming off an 8-8 record in 2011 the silver and black are poised to make a push for the post season in the upcoming campaign.
The Raiders have been the butt of countless jokes for many years due in large part to how sorry JaMarcus Russell turned out to be. Not since Celine Dion, Nickelback and Avril Lavigne had regular radio play have the Raiders been even remotely good. For much of the decade Sebastian Janikowski was Oakland's most potent offensive weapon.
A sad reality? Yes.
However, all the jokes will come to a streaking halt next season. With the 18th most difficult schedule in the NFL the Raiders are more than capable of earning a playoff berth in 2012.
Carson Palmer is the key for Oakland's return to the post season. While he did show flashes of his former Pro Bowl self last season, there's no question that he was still pretty rusty.
Hoping for the 2007 Palmer to take the reins of the offense may be too much to ask for. Although, he still has the tools to be a top-tier quarterback in this league.
In 2011 Palmer was just 4-6 with Oakland, but last season was merely a practice run in order to get back into game shape. With one season with the Raiders under his belt Palmer will be much more comfortable next season which should bode well for the franchise moving forward.
The AFC West is arguably the most competitive division in football right now. Three teams finished 8-8 and the Kansas City Chiefs were close behind after finishing with a record of 7-9.
All four teams finished 3-3 against each other, and any one of them could have taken the top spot last season.
The Denver Broncos appear to be the front runners to win the division again, but there are still huge question marks surrounding Peyton Manning. His head could very well be too large for his neck to support all season long.
It should be another close run next season in this division since no other major changes have occurred within the division.
However, if the Raiders do manage to miss the No.1 spot by the skin of their teeth, at the very least the Raiders could steal a wild-card spot in the AFC.
Last season the Raiders had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but a defensive-minded coach like Dennis Allen is the right man to turn the tides.
In 2011 Oakland had the 29th worst defensive unit in the league. This isn't surprising considering the Raiders' defense was ranked 27th in both passing and rushing.
While Allen is no defensive guru, he is capable of turning around this poor defensive. Allen contributed to turning the 2009 New Orleans Saints into Super Bowl champions by making the defense look like a bunch of ball hawks. That season the Saints had 26 interceptions, which ranked third in the league. Although, New Orleans did give up 358 yards per game.
His bend don't break philosophy works well for this team because all the Raiders need to reach the playoffs is a defense that isn't a liability.