Expectations high for silver and black

Louis LaVenture,

No more flying under the radar for the Oakland Raiders.

For years, the silver and black expectations have been lower than my bank account around Christmas time. However, flying low will not be a luxury for the Raiders in 2016-2017 now that there are expectations.

After a 7-9 finish last season, which was good enough for third place in the AFC West, experts are predicting a major step forward for the organization. Several former NFL players, coaches, executives and current analysts are giving the Raiders a chance to win the division, despite sharing the AFC West with the reigning world champion Denver Broncos.

However, Peyton Manning isn’t suiting up this year: He’s retired and the Broncos have journeyman Mark Sanchez and youngster Trevor Simein listed as their two starting quarterbacks this year, a great thing for Oakland, which is currently battling Las Vegas and other cities to keep the franchise.

Unlike Denver, the Raiders have stability at the most important position in third-year veteran and second-round draft pick out of Fresno State, Derek Carr. Combine that with the wide receiver combination of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and the offense clearly has an upward trajectory after narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season.

With a slew of returning players with experience in the system, a strong draft class and some key free agent additions, the roster is shaping up to be stronger than many expected. Oakland upgraded three positions on their team when they added cornerback Sean Smith from division rival Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks and the biggest prize of the offseason, offensive lineman from the Baltimore Ravens Kelechi Osemele, the number one rated offensive lineman by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Of course it wouldn’t be the Raiders without drama and they have their fair share of it. The team’s home city is still in flux with no stadium deal on the horizon in Oakland and Las Vegas making a push to acquire the team. In September 2015, veteran defensive end Aldon Smith was suspended by the league for multiple run-ins with the law that included two DUI charges. He can appeal to the league for reinstatement in September, a full year between actual games.

However, third-year head coach and Hayward High School alumni Jack Del Rio has created a stable environment that seems to have the team on an upward trajectory. Several expert analysts from ESPN, FOX and the NFL Network have selected the Raiders to win the division.

With a lack of post-season experience and success as a unit, it will be tough for Oakland to make a deep run in the playoffs; however, with the combination of General Manager Reggie McKenzie selecting players and Del Rio coaching them up, an ascension is imminent for the long maligned cellar dwellers of the AFC West.