How will the Raiders fare in 2012?

September 10, 2012, 2:55 pm
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Programming note: Tune in to Raiders Postgame Live tonight for complete reaction from the Raiders' Monday night opener against the Chargers -- 10:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California!

In 2010, after seven straight seasons of at least 11 defeats, the Raiders would buck the trend and, I predicted, go 8-8. They went 8-8.In 2011, after their first non-losing season since the Super Bowl year of 2002, the Raiders would go 9-7, I foretold, with Sebastian Janikowski making a record-long field goal during the year. They went 8-8 and SeaBass converted from 63 yards in Denver.So I'm going to predict the Raiders going 10-6 this year, right, with a 64-yarder from Janikowski? Eh.Truthfully, I can see the Raiders actually finishing anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6, from last in the division to first. No, I'm not hedging any bets. Yes, the AFC West is that wide open. And really, who knew picking the Raiders to finish fourth in a four-team division would upset so many fans?Here's the deal and go ahead, sign me up for The Chapelle Show's Player Hater's Ball if you must (hate, hate, hate, hate), or just read and, well, contemplate The Raiders are essentially an expansion franchisewith much better players. But there are so many moving parts and variables with this team and, already, injuries. Not to mention a lack of depth that was exposed in the Raiders' preseason finale at Seattle. The offense is new. The defense is new. The special teams return games are nonexistent at the moment. And what do the Raiders do ifwhen Darren McFadden goes down to injury?On the other hand, if the stars align, if the defense is as successful as it is active, if the West Coast offense becomes Carson Palmer, if McFadden plays 14 games -- something he has yet to accomplish in his four-year NFL career -- then sure, the Raiders could win the division and be a very dangerous out in the Super Bowl tournament. Besides, Kansas City still has Matt Cassel under center, Denver has Peyton Manning, but his neck is a question, and San Diego still has Norv Turner as its coach.So yeah, the Raiders could be the story of the NFL and win the West this year, but so many things have to turn out just right for them and that's just a lot to ask of a team still trying to find its identity on the eve of the season opener. Indeed, it is shaping up like a team that's taken two steps back to take one step forwardnext year.As such, I went into Nostra-Gutierrez mode again, just before the Raiders' 2012 season opener against the Chargers. Following then, one man's look ahead:The game: vs. San Diego Chargers
The prediction: Win (1-0)
The reasoning: The Raiders had more questions than answers in the preseason -- hybrid talent fullback Marcel Reece did not have a single touch, for example -- but in an emotional opener, they win a shootout with the Chargers as they keep Philip Rivers off balance when it counts most. Matt Shaughnessy has a field day at the expense of UDFA rookie LT Mike Harris.RELATED: Raiders-Chargers matchups to watch: Shaughnessy vs. Harris
The game: at Miami Dolphins
The prediction: Lose (1-1)
The reasoning: Too soon for a trap game? Consider: A short week and a cross-country flight coupled with the Raiders' well-known struggles in South Florida of late portend for trouble for the emotionally flat Raiders.The game: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The prediction: Lose (1-2)
The reasoning: The Raiders are up for this one and give it a game effort on another emotional afternoon against one of their most epic and historical rivals. The Steelers, though, have just enough to win the turnover battle and hold off Oakland.The game: at Denver Broncos
The prediction: Lose (1-3)
The reasoning: If Peyton Manning is right, he figures to gas the Raiders defense and test its depth with the no-huddle offense at elevation. It could get ugly for the Raiders, who limp into their bye week needing the break.The game: at Atlanta Falcons
The prediction: Lose (1-4)
The reasoning: Not even two weeks off can help the Raiders slow the Falcons' high-octane offense indoors and on artificial turf. The Raiders, who have not won in more than a month, desperately need a gimme.The game: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The prediction: Win (2-4)
The reasoning: Fans and critics alike are calling for Carson Palmer to be benched and replaced by Terrelle Pryor, but this is the gimme the Raiders need and Palmer responds, leading Oakland to a feel-good victory that many still see as fool's gold.The game: at Kansas City Chiefs
The prediction: Lose (2-5)
The reasoning: In a nip-and-tuck affair, Palmer has a field day targeting Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt and is driving the Raiders toward a game-winning field goaluntil Jacoby Ford slips on a route and Palmer's pass hits Routt in the chest for a game-sealing interception. Sound familiar?The game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The prediction: Win (3-5)
The reasoning: Has it really been 10 years since the Buccaneers took apart the Raiders in the Super Bowl? At least Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski get to revel in the Raiders' blowout, albeit, 10 years too late.The game: at Baltimore Ravens
The prediction: Lose (3-6)
The reasoning: Another East Coast trip, another ugly showing against the hard-hitting Ravens. Because even if Ray Lewis has lost a step, it's a step most NFL players never had in the first place.The game: vs. New Orleans Saints
The prediction: Lose (3-7)
The reasoning: These are not the same Saints, not with coach Sean Payton out. And Raiders rookie coach Dennis Allen has a unique insight, having coached New Orleans' DBs as recently as two yeas ago, to keep things interesting. But the Saints simply have too much firepower.The game: at Cincinnati Bengals
The prediction: Win (4-7)
The reasoning: Is Darren McFadden still healthy? If so, this is the game the Raiders pull out in which they have no business winning. Long trip. Cold. Season in danger of spinning out of control. But Palmer has something to prove and, oh yeah, Hue Jackson is on the Bengals' coaching staff. See how many Raiders pay their respects to him.The game: vs. Cleveland Browns
The prediction: Win (5-7)
The reasoning: The schedule-makers are a finicky bunch and suddenly, the Raiders look like they can play with any team in the NFL. Over-confidence might seep in a bit, but Janikowski wins it for the Raiders late.The game: vs. Denver Broncos
The prediction: Win (6-7)
The reasoning: Remember the beatdown Manning put on the Raiders in Denver back in September? Neither do the Raiders, who are flying high after a pair of wins. Manning is beat up now, feeling the effects of his comeback season and the Raiders have devised a plan to slow his no-huddle.The game: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The prediction: Win (7-7)
The reasoning: Wait, what? A four-game winning streak? It would be the first for the Raiders since 2002 and suddenly they are back in the division race. Routt and Kevin Boss get a special welcome-home treatment from the Black Hole and special teams, a soft spot early in the season for Oakland, guts this one out for the Raiders, who are suddenly believing in themselvesagainand the home portion of their schedule is done.The game: at Carolina Panthers
The prediction: Lose (7-8)
The reasoning: And just as suddenly, the winning streak comes to an end at the feet of Cam Newton, who runs wild on the Raiders' suddenly impotent run defense.The game: at San Diego Chargers
The prediction: Lose (7-9)
The reasoning: So much has changed since these two teams met in the season opener. What has not changed, though, is the intense dislike between the two. The season ends on a down note for the Raiders but, under new general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen, they are healthier as a franchise than they have been in a decade. And while only one game and, really, one play, separated all four AFC West teams last year, the division remains fairly even this season, as the winner could only be 9-7.