Are the Oakland Raiders Good Enough to Contend for a Playoff Spot?

Can the Raiders challenge for a postseason spot, or is their 3-3 record better than their metrics suggest?

It’s been 13 years since the Autumn Wind blustered in from the sea, swaggered boisterously, pillaged for fun, and laughed when he conquered and won.

Put another way, 2002 was the Oakland Raiders' last Super Bowl appearance.

Since then, there have only been two seasons (2010 and 2011) with at least a .500 record for the Raiders, but things are looking up.

The Raiders are currently 3-3 and coming off a convincing win over the division rival San Diego Chargers. Are the Raiders back? Dare I say, playoffs?

“Just Win, Baby!”

To understand this Raiders team, we must go back to October 8, 2011. That was the day Raiders legendary owner Al Davis passed away. For all the innovation and greatness he brought to the league and the Raiders, the game seemed to pass him by.

His Madden-esque drafting style of focusing on size and speed -- mainly speed -- brought the likes of  Jamarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey to the Bay. Overpaying for high-priced free agents such as Javon Walker left the salary cap in shambles with little wiggle room to maneuver.

A few months after Davis passed, Reggie McKenzie was hired to be the new general manager. Coming from the Green Bay Packers organization, he built a team through the draft, a skill he learned from general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson.

The reset button was pressed, the salary cap situation was rectified, and the draft has brought in the foundational pieces of  Latavius Murray, Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Gabe Jackson.

How Good Are These Raiders?

Despite the 3-3 start, though, there might not be enough behind this Raiders squad just yet.

According to our  power rankings, the Raiders rank 28th overall with a nERD score of -6.06. That means that they would be expected to lose by a touchdown to an average team on a neutral field. Looks like the same old Raiders to me.

Below is a chart that shows schedule-adjusted Offensive and Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) for Raiders teams since 2003.

For those new to numberFire, NEP is our signature metric that factors in situational variables such as down-and-distance in order to compare a team or player’s production to historical expectation levels. Not all stats are equal, as a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 is much more valuable than a gain of 10 yards on 3rd-and-22, for example. For more information, visit our glossary.

Year Adjusted NEP Adjusted Defensive NEP
2003 -101.66 (29) 55.19 (27)
2004 -51.66 (22) 66.08 (25)
2005 -32.16 (19) 31.68 (24)
2006 -225.66 (32) -44.13 (8)
2007 -65.73 (25) 20.88 (21)
2008 -117.32 (31) 15.54 (16)
2009 -141.96 (31) 86.56 (28)
2010 -1.67 (17) -12.50 (11)
2011 7.99 (16) 99.47 (29)
2012 -40.91 (25) 103.49 (28)
2013 -16.36 (23) 99.40 (28)
2014 -79.42 (30) 54.26 (20)
2015 28.63 (14) 65.93 (29)

In terms of Adjusted NEP, this is the most prolific offense the Raiders have fielded since the Rich Gannon-led Raiders of 2002. Granted, the bar was set pretty low but it’s a start. In fact, only Raiders team since 2003 finished with a positive Adjusted NEP, which means that's the only squad that performed better than expectation-level. They maxed out at just 7.99 points above expectation after adjusting for schedule.

This year, Carr is the general of the offense and is 7th in Passing NEP per play, which is a marked improvement from his 38th ranking in 2014. Carr has also turned his Passing NEP around from -40.94 last year to 37.21 this year. Having the year of experience under his belt has been huge for his development, but the addition of first round pick Amari Cooper cannot be understated. 

Cooper has been as good as advertised and is currently fourth in Reception NEP per target among receivers with at least 25 catches. The offseason acquisition of Michael Crabtree has also been beneficial, as he ranks 28th in Reception NEP. The highest ranked Raiders receiver in 2014 was James Jones (51st). 

The ineffective run game is a concern, as the Raiders rank 22nd in Adjusted Rushing NEP. Lead running back Latavius Murray has a -0.06 Rushing NEP per play, which ranks him 27th among players with at least 50 carries.

The biggest worry remains the defense, as the unit ranks 29th overall in Adjusted Defensive NEP. A deeper look into the numbers provides some optimism though. The Raiders are good against the run, as they rank 13th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. It is the 31st-ranked pass defense that holds them back.

Entering Week 7, the Chargers were second in passing offense according to our metrics. The Raiders defense held the Chargers to 144 first half yards and picked off Philip Rivers twice before garbage time allowed Rivers to post a good statistical day.

Can the passing defense improve enough to make a run?


According to our power rankings, the Raiders play four teams inside the top-10 (Jets, Steelers, Broncos, and Packers) the rest of the way. The Raiders played the Broncos in Week 5 and lost 16-10. They play the Chiefs twice (15th) and finish out with the Lions (26th) and Titans (23rd).

In regards to passing offenses, there are only three teams (Steelers, Packers, and Chargers) that rank in the top-10 for Adjusted Passing NEP. The schedule looks accommodating for a postseason run, considering the weakness of the Raiders is their secondary. 

What do our algorithms project?

Our math project them to finish with 6.5 wins and 9.5 losses with a 5.4% chance to reach the playoffs. 

The Raiders are much improved and will be competitive this year in more games than in recent seasons, but it looks like they are a year or two away from being playoff contenders. The future looks bright, though, with a young foundation in place.