Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer warms up before a game (photo by Levi Damien)
The NFL is anything but an exact science. And the trends of the game are certainly not worthy of a scientific theorem. But if you were to study the historical trends of the Raiders over their existence, the evidence suggests they are on schedule to be a playoff team this season. Bear with me for a moment while I explain.
Historically speaking, the Raiders had never experienced an era of futility anything close to that of 2003 to 2009. During that time, the team had double digit losses in each and every season. But these things have a tendency to ebb and flow. The losing wasn't going to last forever. Eventually the Raiders would pull out of it.
In today's NFL with free agency being what it is, even the worst teams can stumble upon a decent season now and then. As they say "Even a broken clock is right twice a day." But the Raiders are not a broken clock. They have simply been a clock that was a couple decades slow for the better part of the new millennium.
In the past couple of seasons, it has appeared the Raiders have finally begun getting back into the 21st century.
This franchise has had its low points before. But every time, they have bounced back. The trend reminds me of climate change. That is the term that has been given to what was formerly known as "Global Warming." Whichever side of the fence you may be on as to why the climate is changing at its current pace, we do know the change in climate over the life of the planet has had its peaks and valleys. In that case the change happens over hundreds and thousands of years while in the NFL it happens in microcosm inside decades.
Scientists use these trends to predict what the climate will be like in the near and distant future. If you apply the same technique for the Raiders, you get similar results.
The Raiders have just come off two straight 8-8 seasons following their seven double digit loss seasons. The last time the Raiders had double digit losses prior to 2003 was 1997 when they went 4-12. After that season they had two straight 8-8 seasons. Also during that second 8-8 season, they brought in a veteran quarterback by the name of Rich Gannon. The next season, they went 12-4 followed by two more trips to the playoffs in 2001 and 2002.
This should look familiar as the Raiders just did the exact same thing. They picked up veteran quarterback Carson Palmer who led the team to a second consecutive 8-8 season. But to see if this is more than just a coincidence we must go back farther.
Exactly ten years prior, in 1987, the team had another double digit loss season when they went 5-10. It was the year after Jim Plunkett retired and Marc Wilson was handed the keys (again) to see if he could lead the team. He couldn't. But the next two seasons the Raiders went 7-9 and 8-8 (one loss away from two consecutive 8-8 seasons). And what did they do after that? They were a playoff team. In fact, they would make the playoffs three of the next four seasons.
That is now two previous occurrences but as they say in science (and in life); Two times is a coincidence, three times is a trend. So I present the theory-forming third occurrence.
Prior to that 1987 season, the Raiders had just one losing season in over 20 years (7-9 in 1981). You have to go all the way back to 1964 to see a somewhat bad season by the Raiders. The five year old franchise went 5-7 that season. Then they won exactly eight games over the next two seasons- just like in 88-89 and 98-99- and were in the playoffs the season after that.
That marks the only three previous times in franchise history the team won five games or less and each time was followed by two seven or eight win seasons and then a string of playoff seasons. The Raiders have their two consecutive 8-8 seasons so if historical trends serve, they are due to be a playoff team in 2012.
If my high school science teacher had any idea I would use the knowledge I learned in his class for this, I am not sure how he would feel about it. If I had to theorize, I would say he wasn't much into sports.