Well the preseason is over, and tonight it begins for keeps for the 2012 edition of the Oakland Raiders.
Like most Raiders fans I always enter a new season with high hopes, but for the past few years they haven't always been realistically high expectations.
If the Raiders are going to end the season with a winning record and a chance for an AFC West championship or wild card spot, there are at least four things that have to happen.
Carson Palmer must not turn the ball over
After coming to the Raiders from his couch last season, Carson Palmer looked good at times, but he also threw way too many interceptions. If the Raiders are going to be successful this season, Palmer must make wise decisions and not stall drives by giving the ball away to the opposing team.
If he can do that, the offense has a chance of being good.
Darren McFadden must stay healthy
During his career with the Raiders, McFadden has shown that he is one of the best, if not the best running back in the league—when healthy.
Unfortunately staying healthy for a full season is not something he has been able to do. While the running back position is a difficult one to avoid injuries, McFadden has seemed to have more of a problem staying healthy than some of the other elite backs in the NFL.
If McFadden can stay healthy this season, and if Carson Palmer can get it together as the Raiders quarterback, the Raiders have a chance to win a lot of games this season.
Of course that is if ...
The defense must improve
Let's face it. The Raiders defense was not very good last season. They gave up way too many big plays, and had a problem finishing off teams during the second half.
If the defense can cut down on allowing big plays and show up for four full quarters of every game, the Raiders should do well providing the offense does its job.
The Raiders must cut down the number of penalties
While many argue that the number of penalties the team committed last season didn't make that much of a difference, I say it cost them several games.
A team cannot win in the NFL in 2012 if they keep giving up yards on offense and defense through penalties. If the Raiders can make a huge improvement in this area—and if the other areas I pointed out are improved—they will have a winning record.
After watching Peyton Manning do so well against the Steelers on Sunday night, it's obvious in order to win the AFC West the Raiders will have to play at a much higher level this season. If Manning stays healthy, the Broncos will win a lot of games, and, unlike last season, a mediocre record will not be enough to win the AFC West.
A good game by Palmer, McFadden, the defense and if the Raiders don't hurt themselves by committing penalties can start the process.
A good, all-around game by the Raiders tonight, and a win against the Chargers on Monday Night Football would be a great way to start the season.
Let the fun begin.