To be fair, none of the teams with losing records is likely to turn things around and get into the postseason—especially considering it's going to take a record of 9-7 at the least to make it happen. Unlike 2010, there won't be a division winner with a 8-8 record—let alone a record of 7-9.
This means the Raiders—or any other team with a losing record—will need to win six of their final eight games to get to 9-7 and potentially earn a playoff berth.
There are currently nine teams in the NFC with a record of 4-4 or better, and there are five teams with a record of 6-3 or better. The wild-card teams in this conference will likely need a record of 10-6 to get into the playoffs, so I'm ruling out any NFC teams with losing records.
There's more leeway on the AFC side, as there are eight teams with a record of 4-4 or better, but only two teams with a record of 6-2 or better.
Of the five AFC teams with three wins, here's how the Raiders are the last team standing.
The Cincinnati Bengals are out. They're in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers—both of which will likely be in the playoffs, with one being the division winner and the other being one of the two wild cards.
The Tennessee Titans are out. They're the only three-loss team that also has six losses, and there's no way the Titans only lose one more game this season.
The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills are both out, being in the AFC East with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. The Pats have the AFC East wrapped up already at midseason, and the Dolphins will likely challenge the Indianapolis Colts the rest of the season for the final wild-card spot.
This leaves the Raiders as the only team with a losing record to have any chance whatsoever at sneaking into the playoffs with a second-half surge.
It's not completely out of the question, either. All it will take is a collapse by the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins—and a big winning streak for the Raiders.
The Chargers are a mess, and the Colts and Dolphins have both exceeded expectations to this point in the season.
Let's take a look at the eight remaining games left on the schedule, and I'll give a quick prediction of which games the Raiders should be able to win.
- Week 10: @ Baltimore Ravens: The Raiders will likely lose.
- Week 11: New Orleans Saints: The Raiders can win.
- Week 12: @ Cincinnati Bengals: The Raiders can win.
- Week 13: Cleveland Browns: The Raiders can win.
- Week 14: Denver Broncos: Raiders will likely lose, but anything can happen at the Black Hole.
- Week 15: Kansas City Chiefs: The Raiders should win.
- Week 16: @ Carolina Panthers: The Raiders can win.
- Week 17: @ San Diego Chargers: The Raiders can win.
If the Raiders can pull together and play mistake-free football, making the playoffs isn't such a wild and crazy idea. If they win all the games I've mapped out, they'll finish the season with a record of 9-7 and have a shot.
But that's a couple of big "ifs".
Still, of all the teams with a losing record, the Raiders have the best pathway to the 2012 playoffs. It's going to be fun watching them try.
Carson Palmer is a savvy veteran who has played better this season than I ever expected. If he can rally the troops, the Raiders could shock the NFL world this upcoming December.
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