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The Raiders should be America’s team

The Raiders haven’t posted a winning season in 14 years and are in the midst of a relocation controversy. And yet, they’re the most exciting team to watch in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

It seems as if the Oakland Raiders are playing in an alternate universe. On almost a weekly basis, new stories come out about owner Mark Davis’ desire to move to Las Vegas. Earlier this month, after the Nevada Assembly voted to spend $750 million of taxpayer money on a new football stadium in Vegas, Davis called the Sin City the “new home of the entire Raider Nation.”

Two days later, in a cruel coincidence, water started pouring from the ceiling inside the decrepit Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Even Mother Nature is telling the Raiders to leave the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, on the football field, the Raiders are the most competitive they’ve been in 14 years –– the last time they posted a winning season. They lead the AFC West with a 6-2 record and held the No. 2 seed in the conference prior to Week 8, which they secured following a dominant win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. Heading into the season, the Raiders were a popular sleeper pick. They’ve more than lived up to the billing.

They solidified their case with a brilliant overtime win over the Buccaneers on the road this week, rolling up 626 total yards and breaking an NFL record with 23 penalties in a single game. And they still won.

The biggest reason for Oakland’s success is the maturation of quarterback Derek Carr. In his third professional season, Carr is the only quarterback in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in every significant passing category, including touchdowns and throwing yards. That’s quite a change for the organization that drafted JaMarcus Russell, who was out of the league after his third year.


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In a wide-open AFC, there’s no reason why the Raiders can’t make a deep playoff run. And with ownership already making plans to bolt for Las Vegas –– despite the numerous obstacles they still face –– they’re in need of support. Long ago, the Raiders were perhaps the most vaunted franchise in the NFL. But that’s no longer the case. Spending more than a decade in football exile is an effective way to build up a lot of sympathy.

Why you should root for the Raiders this season

They’ve been really bad: This can’t be stated enough: the Raiders have been a complete dumpster-fire for 14 years. They have a 74-145 record since 2002 (not counting this year), which brings you to a sad average of five wins per season. Unsurprisingly, they’ve cycled through nine head coaches and 19 starting quarterbacks during this period.

There have been many low points throughout this incredible run of futility, but perhaps the most dire time was when they placed the future of their franchise into the hands of Russell. As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the LSU standout was expected to lead the Raiders back to prominence. He signed a record-setting contract worth up to $68 million, which is now often cited as the owners’ main motivation behind setting up a rookie wage scale during the last round of CBA negotiations.

Russell was awful from the beginning. He turned the ball over three times in his first career start and passed for just 13 touchdowns in 15 games the following season. The Raiders named Russell the starter at the onset of the 2009 campaign, but he was benched indefinitely after nine contests.

In addition to Russell’s putrid play, he struggled to stay in shape –– often weighing over 300 pounds. The Raiders released him in May 2010, but continued battling him in the courts for another three years. The organization settled a $3 million lawsuit with Russell in 2013.

Whiffing on draft picks was commonplace for the Raiders in the latter stages of Al Davis’ life, who was general manager of the team until he passed away in 2011. His obsession with speed caused him to do things like take wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, setting the franchise back for years.

The team was terrible and their derelict stadium made the situation even worse. For years, the Raiders failed to lobby the city of Oakland into financing a new facility. And now, the organization’s threats to move are on the verge of becoming a reality.

Playing through a relocation controversy sucks: The Cleveland Browns were expected to play for a Super Bowl berth in 1995. Then, owner Art Modell announced he was abandoning Cleveland for Baltimore.

After starting the season with a 3-1 record, the Browns sputtered to the finish line, losing all but two of their final 12 games. Then-head coach Bill Belichick was fired and the team drafted Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden once it moved to Baltimore the following spring. The Browns were on the precipice of achieving greatness in Cleveland. The relocation screwed everything up.

It would be easy for the same thing to happen to the Raiders. Though Mark Davis guarantees they’ll play the next two seasons in Oakland, it’s an uncomfortable situation that probably isn’t going to dissipate any time soon. According to one recent report, a number of owners still want to keep the team in the Bay Area. Davis, who’s a bit of an outcast among his fellow owners, needs 24 votes to move.

They’re awesome to watch: There aren’t many entertaining teams in the NFL this season, which is all the more reason to tune into the Raiders.

For starters, they’re one of the most impressive aerial shows in the league. Carr connecting with Michael Crabtree for a touchdown pass is one pretty sight.

Crabtree is experiencing a career resurrection in Oakland. He leads the league in touchdown catches (six) and is on track to post his first 1,000-yard season since 2012. In addition to Crabtree, Carr has 2015 first-round pick Amari Cooper at his disposal. Cooper posted a 1,000-yard season as a rookie and is in position to do it again.

In many respects, the Raiders’ 35-34 win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 set the tone for the year. Oakland gained 486 yards of offense and scored a touchdown that brought the game within one during the final moments of the fourth quarter. Rather than kick the extra-point, head coach Jack Del Rio went for two. His gutsy play-calling has been the perfect compliment to a high-powered offensive attack.

The Raiders converted that two-point try and have been bold all season long. In Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers, Del Rio opted to go for it on fourth down at the end of the third quarter instead of kick a field goal that would’ve tied the game at 24. The result was a game-winning Carr-to-Crabtree touchdown pass. Del Rio, who’s never won a playoff game in his 11-year head coaching career, appears to be developing some major swagger.

Del Rio’s chutzpah was also on display last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Facing a fourth-and-24, he called for punter Marquette King to run rather than kick. The end result was a first down –– and one terrific highlight.

You saw it again this week when he went for it on a fourth down in overtime and got the touchdown!

King is the most exciting punter in the league and once kicked a ball 87 yards. The Raiders are so fun that you can’t even take your eyes off the screen on fourth down. In a lackluster NFL season, they’re the team everyone needs.