Could the Silver and Black be back… in the postseason in 2016?
What may have seemed like a pipedream just a year ago as the team was coming off a 3-13 campaign, is now a sentiment that's slowly picking up steam throughout league circles.
Thursday, Pro Football Focus released a list of the "Five Non-Playoff Teams Likely To Make the 2016 Postseason," and the Raiders sat atop that list.
"There is no doubt that the Raiders were a team on the rise in 2015, and with Derek Carr among our most-improved players in the league this season, they have an ascending player at the most important position in the field," wrote Pro Football Focus. "On the defensive side, everything starts with Khalil Mack, who proved this year that he is capable of game-winning, season-defining opportunities, just as Von Miller produced in the Super Bowl on Sunday. The Raiders are trending up, and should be taking aim for a playoff berth next January.
Pro Football Focus isn't the only one who thinks that the Raiders are going to be a team to be reckoned with in 2016, as NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport told Raiders.com that the team should have a singular goal heading into next season.
"Division title," Rapoport said. "This is a team that should go into next year with a very-realistic chance at a division title, and I think it'll be obvious. The talent is going to get better. The team is pretty young. Derek Carr, you hope that when he steps on the field next, he's ready to make kind of the big leap."
Since he arrived in Oakland just over a year ago, Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been clear that his team's goal each season will be to win the division, and while they fell short in 2015, why couldn't it come to fruition in 2016?
First of all, for the first time since Rich Gannon was calling plays for the Silver and Black, the team has their franchise quarterback.
In his second NFL season, Derek Carr improved his stats across the board, and heading into 2016, the Raiders arguably have the best quarterback in the division, and that's something that can't be overstated, particularly in today's quarterback-driven league.
Secondly, the Raiders have a dominant edge rusher in Khalil Mack.
Like Carr, Mack saw his production jump dramatically in Year Two, and in the process he became a legitimate threat to win the Defensive Player of the Year.
A game-changing pass rusher is invaluable in today's NFL -- just ask the Denver Broncos and Von Miller, and the fact that the University of Buffalo-product appears to just be scratching the surface of his potential is good news for the Raiders.
And finally, the AFC West is wide open in 2016.
Yes, the Broncos are Super Bowl Champions, but with the future of Peyton Manning a huge question mark, and with the expected turnover on the Denver roster, winning the division is far from a guarantee for Gary Kubiak and his team.
While it's admittedly still far too early to anoint the Raiders division champs, or even say that they'll be contenders come November or December, the team is expected to make some noise in 2016, and that's something that hasn't been said in years past.
Is the team where Jack Del Rio wants it to be? Not yet, but the outside perception of the Silver and Black is changing, and that's a start.