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Football Outsiders predicts Raiders have worse record in 2017, but better playoff standing

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Arguably the toughest division in football doesn’t look nearly as tough in these predictions.

It seems to me that April is a tad too early to be making 2017 season predictions. And by a tad too early, I mean way too early. But that didn’t stop Football Outsiders from taking a crack at season record predictions.

Their AFC West prediction is interesting. While they have the Raiders dropping from their 12-4 record last season to 9-7, they predict that will be enough to win what was one of the toughest divisions in football last season.

Here is their division prediction:

AFC West

1. Oakland Raiders: 9-7 (9.0 mean wins; SOS: 15)

2. Kansas City Chiefs: 8-8 (8.1 mean wins; SOS: 4)

3. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-8 (7.9 mean wins; SOS: 14)

4. Denver Broncos: 6-10 (6.0 mean wins; SOS: 6)

Their explanation:

For the first time since 2003, our 2017 projections also give the Raiders a better than 50-50 shot at a winning record. They should have a top-10 offense again, and a full year with Mario Edwards Jr. across from Khalil Mack should improve the pass rush.

Kansas City essentially projects as the same team as last season but with a much tougher schedule and less good fortune. The Chiefs were 6-2 in regular-season games decided by less than a touchdown, and they led the NFL by ending 16.7 percent of opposing drives with a takeaway. The Chargers, of course, were the opposite in terms of luck, and they hope a new coaching staff will help prevent so many close losses and blown fourth-quarter leads.

Our Denver projection might be a surprise, but a full turnover of the coaching staff often presages a drop for winning teams. The Broncos already defied historical NFL trends by putting up a second straight season of otherworldly pass defense, and the odds they can do it three straight seasons are even longer. Then again, I wouldn't want to bet against them, in part because it might make Chris Harris Jr. angry on Twitter.

FO projects that 9-7 record and AFC West crown will give the Raiders the 3-seed in the playoffs behind the Patriots and Steelers.

Here is how the playoff seeding would line up with their predictions:

1. New England (13-3) AFC East

2. Pittsburgh (13-3) AFC North

3. Oakland (9-7) AFC West

4. Tennessee (8-8) AFC South

5. Cincinnati (9-7) Wild Card

6. Kansas City (8-8) Wild Card

I’m sure the Raiders would take a division crown any way they could get it. Though 9-7 doesn’t seem like enough to win it. I predicted 11-5 would win it last year and that turned out not to be enough as the Raiders and Chiefs both hit 12-4. And if not for the injury to Derek Carr, 13-3 was a very real possibility.

I’m no fun, either. I don’t do my season predictions until August. FO will probably be on their third one by then.