Darren McFadden is a big key to how far the Raiders go in 2012.
They were close to making last year’s postseason, needing a Week 17 victory against the rival San Diego Chargers to win the AFC West at 9-7. But they lost and missed out on the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
They have what it takes to get there this season, and though it will be a challenge, Carson Palmer and company will play January football following the 2012 season.
Here’s how they’ll get there.
Throughout his career, Carson Palmer has excelled at getting the ball deep down the field.
It’s been a staple in every offense he’s run since his days at USC—and likely before that.
One thing Al Davis left behind when he passed away last October is pure, unadulterated speed. He made his life’s work drafting the fastest athletes every year, and guys like Jacoby Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore are three of the fastest players in the NFL at any position, let alone at wide receiver.
Palmer proved last year he still has the arm strength to get the ball to his burners, and he will do it once again in 2012.
He was No. 5 in deep-passing percentage last season, throwing it beyond 20 yards 15.2 percent of the time. Skinny posts and go-routes galore will be the norm for Oakland.
We all know what Darren McFadden can be when healthy.
He was on pace for 1,403 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground and another 352 yards and two touchdowns receiving before missing the final nine games with a Lisfranc injury.
His rushing total would have been No. 2 in the NFL behind only Maurice Jones-Drew.
McFadden has yet to play a full season with the team, but so far he looks to be in tip-top shape. During Monday night’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, McFadden carried the ball twice for 20 yards and added an 18-yard reception.
He’s explosive once again, and that is bad news for the AFC West.
Everyone needs a little luck sometimes.
Injuries have already begun to take their toll on the AFC West, as Chargers running back Ryan Mathews left last week’s game with a broken clavicle (collarbone) and will be out at least four weeks (per cbssports.com).
Manning's looked fine and his arm strength appears to be about what it was before surgery, but he also hasn't taken a real shot from a defender yet. It isn't clear whether his surgically repaired nerves can withstand the rigors of another NFL season.
Manning’s right guard, Chris Kuper, will miss at least six weeks after he broke a bone in his forearm Tuesday (per denversports.com). He had just returned from a gruesome leg injury and will now miss three or more weeks of the 2012 regular season.
This is one of those “if” reasons, but anything can happen.
The Raiders do not have the toughest of schedules in 2012.
They will obviously play their AFC West division foes a total of six times, and over the past two seasons they have gone 9-3 in those games.
They can realistically go 4-2 within the division this year, and there are some very winnable games beyond that.
The following games are all outside the division and winnable:
Week 2 at Miami Dolphins
Week 7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 9 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 12 at Cincinnati Bengals
Week 13 vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 16 at Carolina Panthers
Emerging victorious in each of those games—with a 4-2 divisional record—would put Oakland at 10-6 and firmly in the hunt for an AFC playoff spot.
We are a long way off from any relevant games, as we are just beginning Week 2 of the preseason, so there is much to be determined. But as of now, this Oakland Raiders team looks like a contender.
How long they remain contenders will hinge on everything noted in the previous slides.