One of the best things to happen to the Raiders this month was the fact that, as part of the new CBA, there will be seven teams from each conference making the playoffs, starting this season.
That is a great opportunity for a growing team that has been to the playoffs just once since 2002 and hasn’t won a post-season game since that season.
Despite finishing 7-9 last season, the Raiders were alive in the AFC playoff hunt until the final Sunday of the regular season.
If the Raiders can continue to improve, they can conceivably be a legitimate contender to make the seven-team AFC playoffs in 2020.
With the first wave of free agency in the books, the Raiders worked hard to improve their defense. They added three starters, linebackers Nick Kwiatkowski and Cory Littleton and defensive tackle Maliek Collins. They also added several depth pieces. If the Raiders can strike gold in the draft for the second straight year, they should be poised to win two to three more games this season.
Will that be good enough to make the seven-team playoff?
It should. The AFC was weak in 2019. Tennessee was the sixth and final playoff team at 9-7. The 8-8 Steelers were the seventh team.
While it’s early (we’ll revisit this topic often before the season), let’s look at a couple of AFC playoff teams that could take a dip and help the Raiders make a move up.
New England: This will be one of the most interesting teams in the NFL. What type of team will they be like without Tom Brady? We have no idea who their starting quarterback will be. But let’s face it, this was a lesser team in 2019 than most other recent New England teams.
Without Brady, they should take a couple (few?) steps back. But never underestimate Bill Belichick.
Houston: The AFC South champions, who went 10-6, seems to be a mess. They traded star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals this week for pennies on the dollar and they have several holes. It’s difficult to think the Texans won’t take a step back in 2020.
Of course, there will be other developments that affect teams this year.
While it is early — and other non-playoff teams are improving including AFC West foes, the Broncos and Chargers — the Raiders have an opportunity to move into the AFC playoff mix with continued roster building this offseason.