The Oakland Raiders haven’t won the division since 2002, the year they ended up going to the Super Bowl and losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now they’re looking to change that, a season removed from going 7-9 — the team’s best record since going 8-8 in 2010 and 2011.
It’s not just the record, but also the roster, that has increased optimism around the team that general manager Reggie McKenzie has built.
McKenzie has drafted well which has built a core of young players that are ready to win for the Silver & Black. On offense, the Raiders have finally found their franchise quarterback in Derek Carr who made vast improvements last year en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Now the media is starting to recognize what the Raiders have going, and Carr attributes that — along with the wins — to his team working hard to get where they are at.
“It’s cool,” Carr said in Monday’s press conference. “It’s a great thing that people are talking about us in that light because when I first got here, they weren’t. So it’s a credit to where we’ve come from and that’s about it. It’s a credit to what we’ve done. Last year on the field was improvement, it was better than my rookie year, obviously. As a team, we were better.”
Carr was excited about finishing 7-and-9, but knows that it’s not enough for the Raiders to be actual contenders in the NFL.
“We need to be better than 7-9,” Carr said. “That felt really good last year because that’s the best I’ve experienced, but now that I have a taste of it, it’s like, ‘Man, we were so close to winning 10 games. Why can’t we win 10, 12?’ Those are the kind of things that just go through my head and I’m just like, ‘Seven wins just isn’t good enough.’ Just continue to push ourselves to make sure that we can do better than that.”
The media has praised the Raiders for their offseason, adding significant players such as LB Bruce Irvin, OL Kelechi Osemele, CB Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, but the players have maintained they must focus on getting better and not to get caught up in the press clippings.
“That’s the thing — it’s easy to get caught in that trap,” Pro Bowl LB Khalil Mack said. “That’s not what we’re about. We’re about the grind. We’re about working hard, committing ourselves to excellence and going out and winning. That’s what it’s really all about. You can’t focus on those outside things. You have to bring it all tight together and keep it all close and then that’s when the winning starts.”
The Raiders have done a great job building what looks like a good roster on paper, but center Rodney Hudson and the rest of the team knows they must put in the work to validate all of the praise they’ve received this offseason.
“[We have to] continue to work. Continue to grow,” Hudson said on Monday. “I think one thing that’s important because the NFL has a lot of close games, is finding a way to win those games late in the fourth quarter. That comes with a lot of work, staying together and focusing in.”