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With Ascending Derek Carr, Raiders Finally Look Like Legitimate Playoff Team

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 2, 2015

November 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the New York Jets during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since they were demolished by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Oakland Raiders have won an NFL-low 60 games over the course of 12-plus non-playoff seasons.

In fact, no other NFL team has won fewer than 65 games during that span, and in terms of point differential and turnover margin, the Raiders are in a league of their own (in a bad way).

Worst NFL teams since 2003
RankWin-loss recordPoints dif./gameTurnover margin
LastRaiders (60-139)Raiders (-7.2)Raiders (-104)
31stBrowns (65-135)Rams (-5.3)Browns (-61)
30thLions (67-133)Browns (-5.0)Lions (-47)
29thRams (73-125)Lions (-4.7)Saints (-43)
Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Sports writers have become so accustomed to writing it that there are tweens in the Bay Area who think "the lowly Raiders" is the team's official nickname.

But after a second consecutive impressive victory on Sunday, the upstart Raiders are officially no longer lowly.

Instead, a team that has quietly accumulated a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball and avoided the kind of off-the-field shenanigans that handcuffed it in previous eras deserves the respect of observers as well as opponents.

The Raiders are 4-3, which alone might not be enough to convince anyone that they've finally turned a corner. After all, they started 3-4 or 4-3 in each season between 2010 and 2013 but finished with a winning record zero times during that stretch.

This year, Oakland is two heartbreaking losses to the Bears and Broncos short of being 6-1. They've been clearly outplayed just once all season, and that was nearly two months ago in a season-opening loss to a Cincinnati Bengals team that has still yet to lose.

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The major difference this year, though, is that the Raiders finally have a quarterback they can hitch their wagon to.

Second-year sensation Derek Carr had the best game of his young career on Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 333-yard performance against a New York Jets defense that entered Sunday ranked second in football.

Opposing quarterbacks had completed a league-low 54.8 percent of their passes and had an ugly combined passer rating of 78.5 against the Jets, but Carr completed 63.9 percent of his 36 throws and finished with a rating of 130.9 in a rather easy 34-20 victory.

The 2014 second-round pick out of Fresno State gave us hints that he might have elite potential during a rookie campaign that featured 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but he averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt and had league's lowest qualified accuracy rate on passes that traveled 20 or more yards.

This year, Carr has stepped up his game in a whole new way.

He's proving that he's not another checkdown artist or game manager. He's averaging a solid 7.8 yards per attempt, which ranks 10th among qualified passers, and his accuracy rate on deep passes has jumped from that league-low mark of 23.9 to a strong 42.9. 

NFL's highest-rated passers (min. 5 starts)
QuarterbackRating
1. Aaron Rodgers*115.9
2. Tom Brady115.8
3. Carson Palmer110.2
4. Andy Dalton107.6
5. Derek Carr105.7
6. Tyrod Taylor103.6
7. Drew Brees102.5
* Excluding Sunday night's game/Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

And his trajectory points upward in a major way because Carr has been particularly effective in these last two games.

In victories over the San Diego Chargers (on the road) and the stout Jets, Carr has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 622 yards, seven touchdown passes, zero picks, a yards-per-attempt average of 9.3 and a rating of 134.0.

Considering how consistently accurate he's been, as well as the fact that he's shown glimpses of this in the past, it's probably safe to conclude that this isn't just a hot streakit's Carr's coming-out party.

Has his supporting cast helped? Of course. Carr threw a pass on Sunday that running back Taiwan Jones caught seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and took 66 yards for what went into the books as a 59-yard touchdown, and SportingCharts indicates that more than half of his passing yards have still come after the catch.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Running back Latavius Murray, who went over the 500-yard mark for the season on Sunday, has revived a Raiders running game that spent much of the last decade in a coma.

Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper, who is already over 500 yards, looks like the real deal.

And the offensive line entered Week 8 ranked second in the NFL in terms of pass-blocking efficiency.

That's what makes this so promising for the Raiders. You can't win nowadays without a good quarterback, but football is still the ultimate team game and Oakland is a high-quality team with a high-quality quarterback.

That's a recipe for sustainable success, which is something we haven't seen in Alameda County since the dawn of the 21st century.

And in a weird year in which the division-rival Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs are hurting in major ways, and the Jets—whom Oakland just beat handily—are the only other non-division leader with a winning record in the AFC, don't be surprised if Carr and the Raiders put a stamp on their return to perennial contention with a playoff appearance in two months' time.

Unless otherwise noted, advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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