Khalil Mack, Raiders

Raiders showing legitimate potential

The Oakland Raiders have been a joke for the better part of the last 13 seasons. Since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII back in 2002 (and getting humiliated 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) the Raiders have not notched a winning record and as a result, not reached the playoffs.

It is by far the longest drought in franchise history, a storied organization that has won three Lombardi Trophies and played two other times in the big game. Oakland had been one of the dominant teams for decade under owner Al Davis, but Davis lost touch with the current form of the league and began making horrible free0agent signings and even worse coaching hires.

Fast forward to today, and for the first time in well over a decade, the Raiders have real hope. General manager Reggie McKenzie spent the first few years of his tenure getting rid of dead weight and creating cap space, then starting to build through the draft. In 2014, McKenzie hit gold with linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Carr is proving to be the franchise quarterback that the Raiders have not had in decades. Oakland watched Carr throw for more than 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, and he’s even better in his second year. The Fresno State University product has thrown for 1,793 yards and 15 touchdowns through the first seven games of the 2015 regular season, putting him on pace for more than 30 scoring strikes and a 4,000-yard campaign.

McKenzie has done a terrific job of amassing talent to surround the youngster with. The Raiders perhaps overspent but landed a key piece in center Rodney Hudson this offseason, stealing him away from the rival Kansas City Chiefs. McKenzie then drafted receiver Amari Cooper with the fourth-overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft and signed Michael Crabtree to a cheap one-year deal.

Oakland also made a terrific hire by bringing over former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio to steer its ship. Del Rio is a former NFL linebacker and takes no prisoners, but he has shown this young team the way with a combination of screaming and love. It’s worked beautifully, putting Oakland at 4-3 and in a playoff spot should the season end today.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if the Raiders can turn this season into a playoff berth. The schedule remains difficult with a trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. There are also contests against the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City (x2) remaining on the docket. Nothing will be given, but the Raiders have a real chance to claw their way into the postseason.

For the first time in forever, Oakland is no longer a laughingstock.

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