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Why the Raiders Are a Lock For the 2016 Playoffs

The Oakland Raiders marched into New Orleans as slight underdogs in week one and ultimately prevailed with a massive upset thanks to a bold two-point conversion with under a minute to go.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio did not waver under the pressure of high expectations, nor the intensity of a tough road battle with an explosive Saints team. Instead, Del Rio opted to “win right now”, and sent Derek Carr back onto the field to go for the win on a pass to veteran receiver, Michael Crabtree.

The gutsy move worked out, as the Raiders took a 35-34 lead and held off the Saints’ last ditch effort to get a huge week one win.

Oakland showcased their talent, confidence and upside in just one game – all of which could easily be parlayed into the franchise’s first trip back to the NFL playoffs since 2002.

The Raiders’ last trip to post-season play also happened to end with an appearance in the Super Bowl. With Oakland’s impressive 1-0 start taking center stage among NFL story-lines, it’s fair to wonder if Oakland can not only finally get back into the playoff picture, but also make a deep run.

AFC West is No Picnic

It may start within their own division, where the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs still look like tough outs in the AFC West.

The Broncos still have some questions at the quarterback position, but have owned the Raiders for much of the rivalry’s history. They also won a tough battle with a good Panthers team in week one, and by all account have the elite defense and strong running game to make another run at an AFC West crown – something they’ve claimed five straight seasons.

The Chiefs could also be viable contenders, as they displayed just as much grit as Oakland did in week one, as they stormed back from a 21-3 hole to take down the San Diego Chargers in overtime.

None of that says the Raiders are for sure the inferior team of that trio, but there’s no denying the competitiveness inside this division. Needless to say, even if Oakland can’t take the top spot, they’ll probably need to at least finish second in the AFC West if they want to earn a wild card playoff spot.

Whether or not they can accomplish that will likely largely be determined by their matchups with Denver and Kansas City, but a 1-0 start in a hostile environment is a strong start.

Reason For Optimism

Oakland still has a ton of work to do in 2016, but what we saw in week one was extremely encouraging. There were some obvious hiccups on defense, as the Raiders allowed a 98-yard touchdown pass and Drew Brees put up over 400 yards and four scores through the air.

It’s a lot to ask for even the best defenses in the NFL to stifle New Orleans in the Superdome, but the Raiders really had no answer for the Saints defensively. Had their offense not shown up, this game would have been an ugly blowout.

That being said, Oakland’s defense has a lot of nice pieces and is slowly turning into a strong, balanced unit. They can learn a lot from getting shredded through the air in week one, while they can take solace in the fact that it did come against a potent offense on the road, and not some trash offense on their home field.

Defensive issues in week one aside, the Raiders did a lot in week one to show us they just might be the real deal.

Overall, we learned:

  • Oakland is resilient
  • Derek Carr is clutch
  • Jack Del Rio isn’t scared
  • They can win on the road
  • They can hang with anyone

Coming back from a 24-10 hole in the second half proved the Raiders not only don’t quit, but they can fight back in a tough spot on the road. Going for two and actually converting also showed us they’re not scared, have clutch ability and can close the deal in a tough road environment.

Oakland didn’t torch a good defense in week one, but putting up 35 points on the road against anyone displayed their immense offensive upside. Given the atmosphere and pressure situations they were in during the entire second half, it was quite impressive.

Oakland’s Super Bowl Odds

Whether all of this turns into a division title, playoff spot or dramatic run at a Super Bowl remains to be seen. What we do know is judging by one week, Oakland is a very interesting team and if you’re looking for a Super Bowl sleeper, they’re definitely in the conversation.

  • Raiders’ Super Bowl Odds +2500

Bovada seems to agree, too, as the Raiders’ Super Bowl odds sit at a decent +2500 at the moment. If they keep handing out thrilling wins like they did in week one, those title odds might even increase. Naturally, if you’re buying into Oakland, the time to bet on the Raiders to win it all could be now.

Raiders Prediction

A flier Super Bowl bet can be fun, but we wouldn’t bet the farm on Oakland winning it all just yet. There is still enough out there to keep us from fully buying into the Raiders. The list is actually a tad daunting, too:

  • AFC West is tough
  • Derek Carr is in just his 3rd season
  • Running game is unproven
  • Defense needs to be better
  • AFC wild card is no lock

The big takeaway is a total catch-22: Oakland is very talented and not at all afraid to aim high in 2016. They’re undefeated at the moment and with so much potential and confidence meshed together, they truly could be capable of great things this year.

Still, their division is not going to be easy, we still need to see high level consistency from Carr, their running game remains a question mark and as talented as their defense is, we still need better production. Throw in a challenging wild card fight that could include teams like the Bills, Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Colts and others, and it’s clear that Oakland won’t find getting back to post-season play to be easy.

That being said, we do think it’s time the Raiders make their way back to the playoffs. Kansas City and Denver both have some flaws and understandably could be due for some regression and even if they aren’t, the Raiders matchup well on paper with most of the best wild card teams in the AFC. It won’t be easy, but we like Oakland’s chances to reach for 10 wins and a playoff spot.

Kevin Roberts :