NFL: Can the Oakland Raiders Finally Make the Playoffs?

Since being routed 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Oakland Raiders have been the laughing stock of the NFL. AFC West bottom feeders for a decade, the once-proud Raiders were relegated to black-cladded whipping boys until finishing 8-8 in 2010. Following another .500 season in 2011, Raider Nation is all atwitter with postseason speculation, wondering if this is the year Oakland finally returns to the playoffs.

If coach and quarterback are the two most important pieces of any football team, then Oakland could be in trouble. Rookie head coach Dennis Allen is the latest in the rapidly expanding and less distinguished list of Raiders sideline generals. Middling quarterback Carson Palmer – yes the same Carson Palmer Oakland gave Cincinnati a first and conditional second-round, which could become a first-round pick, for – is closer to mediocre than elite.

Allen is Oakland’s first defensively-minded head coach since they promoted linebackers coach John Madden to the helm in 1969. Spending last year as defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, he’s also worked for the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons in variety of capacities but always on the defensive side of the ball.

That Allen has never been a head coach is not necessarily a terrible thing. Think of those still wet-behind-the-ears front men who have reached the playoffs in their first season at the helm: Mike Smith in Atlanta; Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh; John Harbaugh, Baltimore and Pete Carroll, Seattle. If Allen’s talents are equal to that foursome’s, then Oakland has its coach for the next decade.

At one point, Palmer was thought to be on the precipice of greatness, joining the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the NFL’s elite signal callers. Injuries and too much time with the Cincinnati Bengals have stripped away a once astonishingly bright future.

Palmer was pede...

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