The Raiders go into the 2014 season with plenty of baggage.
They don’t have a starting quarterback, are coming off back-to-back 4-12 seasons and have holes all across their roster. So, improving in Year 3 under head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie already appears to be a tough propositon.
But, on top of it all, the Raiders will have to haul all that baggage up the steepest staircase in the NFL. If they want to get to a higher level, the Raiders will have to show improvement against what is now ranked as the league’s most difficult schedule.
The Raiders not only will have to play six games against their three AFC West mates – each of which qualified for the playoffs, including the Broncos (who went to the Super Bowl) – but Oakland also must play NFC West teams this coming season. And the NFC West now ranks as the deepest and best division in pro football, with the Seahawks and 49ers perhaps the best teams in the NFL and the Cardinals and Rams on the rise.
In addition, the Raiders will also have to play the New England Patriots, the AFC’s second-best team in 2013.
According to NFL.com, the Raiders’ opponents in 2014 had a winning percentage of .578 in 2013, which ranks No. 1 on the strength-of-schedule chart. But teams in both of the NFL’s West divisions are right there with them. The eight teams with the toughest schedules are: 1. Oakland (.578), 2. Denver (.570), 3. St. Louis (.564), 4. San Diego and San Francisco (.563), 6. Seattle (.561), 7. Kansas City (.559) and 8. Arizona (.547). Only two teams from the East, the New York Jets and Patriots, rank in the top 10.
As Kevin Patra of NFL.com noted this week, it’s just the Raiders' bad fortune for the time being to be in a division with three playoff teams and part of a regular rotation that calls for the AFC West to be paired with the NFC West this year.
Their biggest misfortune in 2014?
“Outside of practice, they don’t get to face the Oakland Raiders,” wrote Patra.