In 2012, the Oakland Raiders will take on two of the most difficult divisions in all of football: the AFC North and the NFC South.
Five of those eight teams made the postseason last year, and the Raiders are sure to have their hands full when they meet up with all of them head on.
According to NFL Nation Blog, (via ESPN.com), Oakland has the 18th-most difficult schedule in the NFL.
But the rest of their schedule is difficult. Oakland must take down some of the toughest teams, as well as some of the most improved teams in the NFL if the team finally wants to end its overdue playoff drought.
Let's take a look at five of the Raiders' most challenging games in 2012.
The Raiders-Broncos rivalry is one of the most hated rivalries in the NFL. This season, both teams are viable contenders to win the AFC West. As the final month of the season approaches, both teams will face each other during crunch time.
Oakland couldn't beat the Tim Tebow-led Broncos at home last season, but this is a new year, and a loss to the Broncos stings for a long time. Denver will be looking to steal one on the road from its longtime rival, making this bad-blood filled, late-season matchup all the more difficult for the silver and black.
In 2011, the Raiders were one victory away from the AFC West crown. However, a sluggish finish to the year added one more year to their playoff drought.
This late-season matchup will be pivotal to the Raiders' playoff hopes.
In 2011, the Atlanta Falcons were 6-2 at the Georgia Dome.
Their only two losses at home were to two of the NFC's best, the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. In their six home wins, the Falcons averaged over 33 points per game, and they put up 86 points in their final two home games of the year.
The Raiders struggled mightily last year on the defensive side of the ball. Even though there is a new regime in Oakland, the fact of the matter is that the Falcons are downright scary offensively; especially at home.
Julio Jones is a top-10 receiver in the league, and Roddy White is arguably in the top three. The Falcons' duo of wideouts is sure to cause problems for Oakland's secondary.
With all due respect to the Raider defense, White and Jones caused problems for almost every defense they faced last year.
The Raiders will head to Atlanta coming off their bye week, and stealing a road win in the Georgia Dome will be a difficult task to accomplish.
As long as Drew Brees is under center in the Big Easy, the Saints will always be an elite offense in the NFL.
Last season, the Saints were first in the league in passing yards per game and sixth in rushing yards per game. This year shouldn't be any different.
Not to mention the fact that Brees is a mastermind when it comes to spreading the ball around. He threw an incredible 46 touchdowns last year, and his No. 1 receiver Marques Colston only caught eight of them.
The bright spot for Oakland is that the Saints defense was downright awful last year. If the Raiders can hang with the Saints score for score, then the victory is a strong possibility.
All the Raiders had to do to win the division last year was beat the San Diego Chargers in Week 17.
They were unable to and consequently failed to make the playoffs again.
The Raiders will close out the regular season against the Chargers again; only this time it will be on the road.
With the AFC West up for grabs, a Week 17 victory over the Bolts could once again make or break Oakland's postseason chances.
The competition may not be as difficult as the Saints or the Falcons, but the playoff implications that a Week 17 victory has for the Raiders makes this matchup one of the most important for the silver and black in 2012.
Oakland beat San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium last year, and they would love nothing more than to do it again this year.
With one of the most versatile running backs in their backfield, along with one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens are a challenge for any team they face.
The Ravens went 8-0 at home last season and gave up 14 points or less in five of those eight victories.
Baltimore was a missed field goal away from representing the AFC in the Super Bowl last year, and the defending AFC North champs will continue their dominance in 2012.
The Ray Lewis-Ed Reed combo has been one of the most stellar defensive pairings over the last decade, and the Raiders must find an answer for them if they want to leave M&T Bank Stadium victorious.
Oakland is Baltimore's only home opponent during the month of November, something the Ravens will look to capitalize on before heading to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Steelers on Sunday Night Football.