We’ve seen 10-win turnarounds in the NFL before, so theoretically if the Oakland Raiders won four games in 2012, they could plausibly win 14—never mind.
In all seriousness, every NFL team has a chance to be the new Cinderella (which is a part of what makes the league so great). The Raiders won’t win 14 games in 2013, but they do have a shot to make noise in the AFC West. Here’s why:
1) Take a look around
When you get past the national media hype, the AFC West isn’t as intimidating as it seems.
There’s the last-place Kansas City Chiefs who won two contests in 2012. Despite expectations to steamroll the division for several years running, the Chiefs and their exuberance of talent have always found a way to lose. (Andy Reid and Alex Smith know something about that.)
The San Diego Chargers are currently a club without an identity. Norv Turner is out after six seasons serving as head coach, and the team has scrapped its roster since last making the playoffs in 2009. Hopes ride on a battered Philip Rivers, which is no guarantee after two years of decline.
Those Denver Broncos? They are one Peyton Manning injury away from unimaginable disaster.
2) Addition by subtraction
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has spent the past two offseasons gutting the team of bad contracts and along with them chronic underachievers. Former Al Davis favorites like Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rolando McClain were released this year, taking with them the entitlement and security of the post-2002, sloppy-playing Oakland squads.
3) Plenty to prove
Nearly every player on the Raiders is fighting for a job or their career.
On defense, there will be potentially nine new starters on opening day. That makes for entertaining training camp and preseason competition, but once the victors are chosen don’t expect them (or their backups) to hang their feet up and relax.
4) Run DMC
For good or bad, the Raiders’ 2013 season hinges on Darren McFadden’s level of play.
When healthy, he is a running back with 2,000 yards-from-scrimmage potential, and a threat to go the distance on every handoff.
When hurt, McFadden is doing what he usually does.
5) Low expectations
Do a quick search online, and you’ll find the Raiders grouped with the bottom-barrel names (Bills, Browns, Jaguars, must I continue?) that will finish last in projected NFL scenarios.
Admittedly, there is some solid science to that logic. But it also means that Oakland is expected to be terrible, which is what opposing teams will assume week-in and week-out. If there’s a lesson to be learned from conscious history, it’s to never underestimate your opponent. (Ask anyone who lost to the 2008 Miami Dolphins.)
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