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Derek Carr on Oakland Raiders: 7-9 not going to cut it

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The Oakland Raiders have been an NFL afterthought for so long, it's hard to remember the last time we saw them play meaningful football in January.

You have to go all the way back to 2003, when Rich Gannon -- the league's MVP in the preceding season -- led Oakland to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Anyone who speaks of the outcome of that game gets dungeon time at Davis, Inc.

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What's happened in the years since has been a slow-motion car crash for a proud franchise. The win totals in the 13 years since speaks to the wreckage: 4, 5, 4, 2, 4, 5, 5, 8, 8, 4, 4, 3, 7.

Last year's jump made sense. Buttressed by a pair of strong draft classes, Oakland sent five players to the Pro Bowl in 2015. Derek Carr was one of them, and the third-year quarterback remains the key to the Raiders' hopes of finally regaining relevance in the AFC.

With Carr (No. 36 pick, 2014) leading the offense and Khalil Mack (No. 5 pick, 2014) anchoring the defense, Oakland has become a buzzy playoff pick this season. For the first time more than a decade, there are legitimate -- gulp -- expectations for the Silver and Black.

"On paper it looks great. We don't want to be paper champs," Carr told CSN Bay Area at the start of Oakland's offseason workout program. "We've got some good guys, but none of that matters unless we put the work in. Everything can look good in theory and in practice it all falls apart. As a leader of this team, I'm going to concentrate on pushing to get better every day."

General manager Reggie McKenzie seized on last year's momentum with several important signings in free agency. Kelechi Osemele fortifies the offensive line, while the defense has gained impact starters in cornerback Sean Smith, safety Reggie Nelson and pass rusher Bruce Irvin.

With the Broncos in flux -- a team with Mark Sanchez penciled in as its starter should always be regarded as such regardless of prior achievements -- the hype around the Raiders actually feels justified.

"It's a great thing that people are talking about us in that light. When I first got there, they certainly weren't doing that," Carr said. "It's a credit to where we've come from, but that's about it.

"What we did last year on the field was better, but we want the same kind of jump again this year. We want to be better than 7-9. Honestly, 7-9 is not going to cut it. It felt good last year, I think we were close to winning 10 games. We have to continue to push ourselves to do better than that."

The road to the Lombardi Trophy is littered with April darlings, but it's easy to be optimistic in this case. This could finally be the year the Raiders return as power players in the AFC. Frankly, they've been missed.

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