With a full head of steam and at least one home playoff game within their grasp, it all went horribly awry one sunny late December afternoon.
In a what already looked to be a win against the Indianapolis Colts, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr who was putting the final touches on an MVP-caliber season was lost to a broken leg. Why head coach Jack Del Rio even had him in the game that was already in the bag is unfathomable.
Stick a fork in the Raiders, they were done.
The funeral procession went through Denver where the Raiders stumbled through a butt-ugly New Year’s Day loss to the disappointing Broncos and ended in Houston’s NRG Stadium with a wild card playoff defeat to the Texans.
This year Carr is back and healthy and the Raiders have the inside track to the AFC West division title because they have the best quarterback. Carr’s signing of a 5-year $125 million deal is a sign that he has entered the small circle of those considered as elite franchise quarterbacks.
Before the injury, Carr threw for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions. He should at the very least match those numbers in 2017 as Oakland takes the next step.
The biggest problem was that Carr had no reliable backup so the Raiders signed former Bill E.J. Manuel although whether he can be any better than Matt McGloin if Carr goes down again is unknown.
The Raiders are counting on a better running game after they lured former Seahawks battering ram Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. Beast Mode is coming to the black hole and if Lynch is able to regain any of his previous form, the ground game could be dangerous.
The offensive line is good, it was just pure bad luck that Carr suffered that critical hit last year.
Regardless of how Lynch does, Carr will have plenty of targets in the passing game. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are both dangerous threats with Cooper being the best of the two. The legendary Al Davis would be ecstatic to see that his beloved vertical game has returned to the silver and black.
The Raiders also added tight end Jared Cook and disappointing Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson who will hope that a change in scenery will resuscitate his career.
Defensively the Raiders still have some ways to go. They finished 26th overall last year despite having pass-rushing demon Khalil Mack. Linebacker Bruce Irvin is also the type of player that can terrorize opposing quarterbacks if he’s healthy.
The secondary is a big play unit that has to do better than last year and Oakland addressed that area in this year’s draft. The Raiders defenders will benefit from being in a division in which every team has quarterback problems with the aging Philip Rivers as the only decent passing threat.
Special teams wise, the Raiders have to have the most entertaining punter in the NFL with the dancing, showboating Marquette King. Veteran Kicker Sebastian Janikowski will return for his seventeenth season, conjuring up visions of Raiders legend George Blanda.
So, what does it all mean?
This is a team on the rise and while getting better, still is not a match for the mighty Patriots dynasty. But you never know, lightning could strike for Carr just like it did for Brady and the Raiders could be the next dominant team in the AFC.
The move to Las Vegas is still at least two years away and with this team on the rise, Oakland may well get to see another Super Bowl Championship although it is unlikely that it will be this year barring a big time stumble by New England.