It's been almost a dozen years since the Oakland Raiders had a winning season.
Since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, the Raiders have gone 53-123 with zero postseason appearances.
It appeared that the Silver and Black had finally turned the corner in 2010 and 2011 after posting back-to-back 8-8 records, but consecutive 4-12 seasons in the years to follow have few believing in Oakland heading into the new season.
Making matters worse, the Raiders' 2014 regular-season schedule ranks as the toughest of any team in the league, with Oakland's 13 opponents boasting a combined 2013 win percentage of .578. Only four of their 2014 opponents finished with a losing record in 2013, and six won 10 or more games, including AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City, whom Oakland will play twice, per Boston Globe's Ben Volin:
Let's take a closer look at Oakland's challenging regular-season slate.
|2014 Oakland Raiders Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||9/7||at New York Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|2||9/14||vs. Houston Texans||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|3||9/21||at New England Patriots||1 p.m.||CBs|
|4||9/28||vs. Miami Dolphins (London)||1 p.m.||CBS|
|6||10/12||vs. San Diego Chargers||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|7||10/19||vs. Arizona Cardinals||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|8||10/26||at Cleveland Browns||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|9||11/2||at Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|10||11/9||vs. Denver Broncos||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|11||11/16||at San Diego Chargers||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|12||11/20||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|13||11/30||at St. Louis Rams||1 p.m.||CBS|
|14||12/7||vs. San Francisco 49ers||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|15||12/14||at Kansas City Chiefs||1 p.m.||CBS|
|16||12/21||vs. Buffalo Bills||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|17||12/28||at Denver Broncos||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
If Oakland is going to turn things around in 2014, it'll have to earn more than just one division win. The Raiders went 1-5 against the AFC West in 2013, beating the San Diego Chargers at home in Week 5.
Oakland will more than likely need to be 3-3 or better in the division to have any shot at the postseason.
Outside of the AFC West, things won't get any easier for the Raiders, who will play the best division in football. Oakland is scheduled to play the NFC West next fall, including a road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
The Raiders will also play the AFC East. Road games against the New England Patriots and New York Jets project to be the most problematic. But even home matchups with Buffalo and Miami aren't guaranteed wins, as the Bills and Dolphins have combined to win six straight games against the Raiders.
For their other two AFC foes, the Raiders will play the Houston Texans at home and the lowly Cleveland Browns on the road. Those two teams combined to win just six games a year ago but should be much improved in 2014. Each is a must-win game if Oakland has any hope of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03.
Although the Raiders' 2014 schedule appears brutal on paper, the team brought in several veteran leaders this offseason, including James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. Those players will be expected to help change the culture and mindset of the whole team. One thing is for sure: The players aren't going to run away from the challenge, as Jones-Drew told Raiders.com:
The only goal I have is to win and that’s it. All the other individual accomplishments and accolades will come with that. I just think when you get into an organization like this that is so storied and has a great tradition, they know how to win. They beat Jacksonville when I was with them. They know what it takes. Obviously, we are in a tough division, but that’s OK. That’s exciting to be able to compete against the best – Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, these defenses, these other runners – Jamaal Charles. It’s going to be exciting to go out there and compete against these guys. That was one of the things, some people ask why I would want to go there. They have a tough schedule. It’s not about that.
A tough schedule also leads to lower expectations, something that could fuel Oakland as well as relieve some of the pressure on the younger players.
But for now, Raiders fans will have to continue to embrace the underdog role and take solace in the old adage: any given Sunday.
While the Raiders will have multiple opportunities to make some huge statements on the road in 2014, beating lackluster Cleveland will be critical to the Raiders' slim postseason chances.
Odds are, if Oakland can't beat the Browns away from home next fall, it's not going to fare very well on the road altogether. With away showdowns against five 2013 playoff teams (Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, New England and Seattle) set for this upcoming season, beating Cleveland is a must.
Seeing as the Raiders and Niners aren't in the same conference and meet only once every four seasons, 2014's home matchup with San Francisco is sure to prove pivotal for Oakland in terms of its playoff outlook and overall confidence. The Bay Area battle will also be a huge focal point among fans.
The Raiders' struggles over the past decade or so have diminished this rivalry in terms of how the rest of the nation views it, but neither side will be lacking motivation to win. On top of the rivalry factor, Oakland will need to win its home games in order to avoid plummeting to the bottom of the standings.
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