Raiders hopeful for playoffs

Excitement has returned to Oakland thanks to the Raiders’ playing like an actual NFL team for the first time in over a decade. They have improved from 3-13 in 2014 to 7-9 in 2015. I expect the improvement to continue next year with a playoff birth, and here’s why.

The AFC is, on paper, not an extremely competitive conference and I have broken it down into four tiers. The first tier has two legit contenders with Pittsburgh, New England. After that, tier two is a small group of teams that are good that occasionally play bad like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. Tier three is teams that either have too many questions surrounded them to be in tier one or two, or they’re not good enough to be in tier one or two. This applies to teams like New York, Denver, Buffalo, and Tennessee. Below them is tier four which is for teams that are too dysfunctional to win, so pretty much just the Cleveland Browns.

So where does Oakland fit into all this and how does this mean they will make the postseason? I have them towards the bottom of tier two. Going off of last year, they are a good team that plays poorly from time to time. Of their nine losses, five of them were decided by seven points or less. I expect them to continue to improve and take advantage of the surplus of mediocre teams.

Another reason I expect the Raiders to make the post season is that their division is getting weaker as they are getting stronger. This might sound crazy seeing that the defending Super Bowl champions and a team that made it to the divisional round of the playoffs are in their division, but bare with me. The defending champion Broncos already lost their starting quarterback, Peyton Manning, to retirement and their back up plan, Brock Osweiler, sending shock waves through the football world by signing with the Huston Texans, leaving the team virtually quarterbackless. In addition to losing their top two quarterbacks, the Broncos have also lost stud defensive lineman Malik Jackson who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week, and linebacker Danny Trevathan, who signed with the Chicago Bears. While they still are the Denver Broncos, they will not be the same dominant team that they were last season.

The Chiefs are really the only other threat in the Raiders’ division seeing as the Chargers are doing everything in their power to not win. The Raiders did go 0-2 against the Chiefs last year, but were competitive in both. With the improvements being made on both sides of the ball, it is not hard to imagine the Raiders sweeping their rival this time around.

The last reason why I expect the Raiders to make the playoffs is that they have been extremely good at finding value in the draft and free agency. They nailed the 2014 draft picking up defensive superstar Khalil Mack and quarterback of the future, Derek Carr. Both turned in career years in 2015. They followed up the 2014 draft with by picking 2015 rookie phenom wide receiver, Amari Cooper, and impact player Mario Edwards. The 2015 free agent additions of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, cornerback David Amerson, and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith. The 2016 free agency period is only two day old, at the time of writing this, and they have already signed former Baltimore Ravens’ guard Kelechi Osemele, former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, and recently lured away Chiefs’ cornerback Sean Smith.

Of course all these additions make the Raiders better on paper, but if they all pan out and play the way they are supposed to play, and their division is as weak as I expect it to be, then it’s not a leap of faith to assume the Raiders will return to 2002 form and make the postseason in 2016.