For the first time in a while, the Oakland Raiders and their fan base have a reason to be excited. After most experts predicted the team to finish in last place in the AFC West in 2015, the Raiders have a chance to make the playoffs this season.
Oakland’s 4-4 record could be a lot better, as three out of the four losses have been by a combined total of 11 points. If first-year Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio could get the silver and black to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season, he would have to be one of the candidates for NFL Coach of the Year.
Through eight games, how do the Raiders grade out?
There’s one person who has been the Raiders' offensive MVP this season — quarterback Derek Carr.
The second-year player out of Fresno State has thrown for 2,094 yards and 19 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Carr’s 104.3 quarterback rating is places him fourth in the AFC and sixth in the NFL.
Carr has made his teammates better and he even led the Raiders to their first victory of the season against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. It hasn’t just been Carr that has made the Raiders' offense go this season, he has had a lot of help.
Running back Latavius Murray leads the AFC in rushing (sixth in the NFL overall) with 630 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging 4.8 yards on 132 carries.
It is only halfway through the season, but wide receiver Amari Cooper is likely to get a lot of votes for offensive rookie of the year. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has 45 receptions for 653 yards and four touchdowns.
Last offseason, receiver Michael Crabtree signed a one-year, $3.2 million deal. The Raiders appear to have picked up a bargain, as Crabtree has been a perfect complement to Cooper. Crabtree is on pace to have a career year — 94 catches, 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The most surprising unit on the Raiders may be their offensive line. Oakland all of a sudden has one of the better pass-blocking lines in the entire NFL. The Raiders have allowed only 10 sacks this season, which is the second fewest in the entire league.
Overall, the Raiders rank 11th in total offense after eight games. That’s a huge improvement from last season when the team ranked dead last. If the team took care of the ball better, their offense would get an A+.
Offensive Grade: A-
What can anyone say about 18-year veteran Charles Woodson that hasn’t been said? Even at age 39, he has been the best player on the Raiders' defense.
The safety is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with five. More importantly Woodson’s leadership has been invaluable to the this otherwise young unit.
Another positive for the Raiders has been the play of Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith. While Mack hasn’t had the amount of sacks (four) at the midway point that some might have expected, he is still wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. Smith has 2.5 sacks this season and has managed to be a very key offseason signing for the Raiders.
One of the biggest surprises on the Raiders' defense is how rookie defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. has played since taking over for an injured Justin Tuck (torn pectoral). Edwards has been an excellent run stopper and he has even forced a fumble.
The biggest downfall of the Raiders' defense has been against the pass. Oakland ranks 29th in passing defense, giving up 315 yards per game through the air.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9, wide receiver Antonio Brown set a franchise record against the Raiders with 284 yards receiving on 17 catches.
With the Raiders only giving up an average of 97 rushing yards per game, it has been their passing defense or lack thereof that has been holding that side of the ball back.
Defensive Grade: C
Sebastian Janikowski, the most-tenured Raider on the roster, is having a solid season, as he is 13-of-16 on field goal attempts. Punter Marquette King also has been consistent, ranking eighth in the NFL in punts inside the 20-yard-line with 15.
Taiwan Jones has been mostly returning kickoffs, averaging a respectable 25.1 yards per return.
Special Teams Grade: B-
Last season, Oakland won only three games the entire season. This year, the Raiders could potentially triple that total and make their way to the postseason. If Carr continues to play like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, there’s no reason the Raiders won’t be in the playoff mix at season’s end.
The secondary has to improve, especially when the Raiders still have to face quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers before the end of the season.
Del Rio has done an excellent job with the Raiders when many people didn't expect the team to be a possible playoff contender.
Overall Grade: B-
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.