No one saw the magical season the 2015-16 Carolina Panthers put up coming. Lie if you want but the truth shall set you free. Everything that would’ve went right for them did until the last game.
To win in this league you definitely need talent, great coaching but you also need luck. The fumbles must bounce your way, defenders must forget how to tackle, the refs might miss a call, anything that might give you an unspoken advantage must happen. The Panthers had all of that last season but who will be the team that gets those breaks this year?
You have your normal run of the mill playoffs teams and then you have the teams that nobody will see coming, This year that teams happens to be the Oakland Raiders. Here is why.
Last season the Raiders made strides that are sure to pay off this upcoming season. The Raiders have seemed to finally found the blueprint to success and have followed it to a tee. They have the franchise QB in Derek Carr, the receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the RB in Latavius Murray and a great O-Line. But where the Raiders will make their big push will be on the defensive side of the ball. Khalil Mack will be active as usual, all over the field, but the key to their success will lie in the hands of LB Bruce Irvin and DE Mario Edwards. If Irvin can be the same player he was while in Seattle, expect the Raiders defense to be much improved in stopping the run. What works to their advantage is that the AFC West will have one true elite QB, Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will have veterans under Center but neither brings a real threat to the game. The Raiders Drafted S Karl Josephs with the 14th pick in the 2016 Draft to replace Charles Woodson. Joseph has the skills but experience will be vital when dealing with the WRs of the West.
Another reason you should expect the Raiders to achieve the Cinderella moniker is their schedule. Last season they faced 6 playoff teams, while this year they will have 4 on their schedule. As I spoke on earlier, sometimes you need a little luck to go your way. And while they face 4, I see only 2 offering stiff competition, the Carolina Panthers and the Broncos. The Raiders will start the season with three of their first four games on the road against the Atlanta Falcons (8-8), New Orleans Saints (7-9), Tennessee Titans (3-13) and the Baltimore Ravens (5-11). By the time they reach their Bye Week in week 10 they will have faced only two teams with a true winning season last year. It’s safe to say the Raiders could head into their bye with a 9-1 record, but much like Carolina last season, everything must still go their way. The Panthers faced major injures last year to Charles Johnson and Kelvin Benjamin but everything else went their way. This could easily be the Raiders in the same position.
After their Bye Week they move on to face the meat of their schedule and this is where they will need that slipper to stay in place. The have 3 straight home games against the Panthers (15-1), Buffalo Bills (8-8) and the Houston Texans (9-7). By the end of that home stand the Raiders could very well be 11-2, in position for home field advantage in the AFC. The Raiders will finish out the regular season with four games remaining, 3 of them vs division rivals. The Chargers will pose no threat, the Chiefs and Raiders always play a tough battle and the Broncos will be a tough game on the road to close out the season but by that time the division, playoffs and possibly home field may already be cemented and that game may have no meaning.
If all goes according to plan the Raiders are looking at a 14-2 season, but as I said, a little luck must go their way.