The Raiders this past season marched into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. But to return to the postseason will likely be more difficult.
First, the Raiders won’t be overlooked anymore. With a gifted young quarterback in Derek Carr, powerful offensive line, great receivers and Khalil Mack leading an improving defense, Oakland will have everyone’s attention.
Second, the Raiders go into the 2017 season with the league’s fourth-toughest schedule. It promises to be a long, rocky road to a division title or wild-card spot through a rugged AFC West.
Going into 2016, the Raiders’ strength-of-schedule was judged to be the 15th toughest, with opponents coming off a cumulative .500 winning percentage in 2015.
Going into 2017, the Raiders have the league’s fourth-toughest schedule, according to NFL.com. Opponents have a .564 winning percentage from 2016. Opponents had a 144-111-1 cumulative record.
As Nick Hjeltness of the Raiders-focused Just Blog Baby website noted, the top four teams in strength of schedule for 2017 are AFC West teams. No. 1 are the Broncos at .578, followed by the Chiefs (.576) and Chargers (.568).
“It’s no surprise, but the AFC West takes up the top four,” he wrote. “As the best division in football, each team has to play one another twice, thus boosting the strength of schedule compared to other teams.”
But, he points out the Raiders also have to play the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills among its non-division foes. Plus, the Raiders will have to play the Patriots in Mexico City (officially a Raiders home game) and will take long trips to play at Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington.
John Breech, who covers the NFL for CBS Sports, writes that strength-of-schedule can play a big role in a team’s success. Going into 2016, six teams among the eight with the toughest schedules did not reach the playoffs. However, the Falcons made it all the way to the Super Bowl – so it’s not a death blow. And, things change. Before the 2016 season, Atlanta was judged to have the NFL’s toughest schedule. By the end of the season, its cast of foes was graded the eighth easiest.