Season predictions are tricky.
Injuries are impossible to project, and the impact can be even tougher to place expectations on. More than that, there’s acquisitions and cuts — like when the Raiders claimed cornerback David Amerson off the waiver wire last season, and he put up a highlight-filled season.
Such things don’t happen often, but breakout seasons do occur with relative regularity.
For the Raiders, a few different guys make their presence felt, unexpectedly, and put the team where they hoped they would be.
At New Orleans
The Raiders get involved in a shootout for the first 40 minutes, but pull away on the heels of their defensive superiority. Derek Carr, though, outperforms Drew Brees on every level, connecting with Clive Walford eight times for over 100 yards.
The Raiders home opener goes better than expected, and while Julio Jones goes HAM, the Oakland offense continues to fire on all cylinders. The defense takes a step forward, as well, limiting the Atlanta rushing game to fewer than 80 yards.
Oakland’s first loss of the season comes against the league’s most dominant rushing attack — a dual threat quarterback with rookie bowling ball Derrick Henry and former pro bowler DeMarco Murray. The Raiders begin to evaluate their running game also, after under achieving.
If the Raiders thought they fought for a big win in week 2 of last year, this one will change their minds. Oakland blows out Baltimore, who struts out the most confusing group of middling starters on offense, and a defense that’s not in shambles. This is a blowout from jump Street.
Vs San Diego
Firing on all cylinders the defense holds San Diego’s dangerous offense to 17 points and under 300 yards of total offense, while rushing for 150 yards. San Diego’s bottom tier defense allows four passing touchdowns as well, which allows the Raiders to get a second look at rookie quarterback Connor Cook.
Vs Kansas City
The Raiders don’t beat the Chiefs unless it’s pouring rain and Latavius Murray gashes the Kansas City defensive front. So, unless there’s a monsoon — circa 2014 — this is a depressing loss for Oakland, that carries with it playoff ramifications.
Sure, the Jags are great looking on paper. Their inexperience, though, is what the Raiders prey on, and to great result. They trick Blake Bortles into two picks using odd and even fronts, and have another big day in the ground.
At Tampa Bay
Fully acclimated to the Eastern time zone, this becomes a surprisingly close game, with Bucs receiver Mike Evans catching two touchdowns, but the Tampa ground game being stuffed hard by Oakland down linemen. Derek Carr has an off day, and then squeaks by with some late-game heroics.
The Raiders have the tape to beat the Broncos. The Broncos don’t have the personnel to beat the Raiders. Von Miller and Khalil Mack set the record for sacks from two players on opposing teams, but the Raiders beat Denver by a touchdown.
Loss (in Mexico City, which is way closer to Houston than Oakland)
This one puts the Raiders on the map. They sack Cam Newton four times, with two interceptions. Derek Carr, meanwhile, throws three touchdowns and no interceptions, while receiving mixed results on the ground.
It’s Buffalo, and the Raiders punch their ticket to the playoffs, unofficially, with a win over the Ryan brothers. It’s an ugly one, but Oakland gets it done.
At Kansas City
Somehow, the Raiders win this. It gets played over and over in the coaches offices of both team, and neither can figure out what happened. But it does happen. The Raiders, at 10-3, are officially in the playoffs.
At San Diego
The Raiders inch closer to winning the division by sweeping the rival Chargers. The offense struggles, though, which is limited by late season injuries. The defense, though, wins it.
Vs Indianapolis on Christmas Eve
Andrew Luck can handle the Oakland pass rush, and takes six sacks while turning the ball over three times, leading to the Christmas miracle Raiders fans have waited for since the 2003 Super Bowl loss against Jon Gruden and Tampa Bay.
They’re 12-3, and are locked into the division lead. With no chance for it to slip away.
At Denver, New Years Day
The Raiders are locked into the postseason, with Kansas City and Denver dueling for wild card spots. The fuel from the home sidelines is too much, and the Raiders fail to secure home field advantage through the playoffs — which equivocally means that theres a legitimate chance they face the Patriots in New England deep into January.
The Raiders end the year 12-4, with some blowout wins, and ugly losses. The well-rounded roster, which is deep on the defensive side, grinds teams down and gets stronger late in the game — exactly what a team needs to do if its got any chance to succeed.
The lack of talent at running back is exposed, though, and like the preface mentions, could dictate how the season goes in January. A big addition at running back could pay huge dividends.
It was surely the difference between at least one win turning into a loss during the team’s 2015 campaign, and might not be covered up the way Oakland wants it to be.
Nonetheless, the Raiders should be headed to the postseason for the first time since their 2002 season.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.