Raiders could have tough road ahead

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Way back when Lane Kiffin had just gone on the hot seat, I thought the Oakland Raiders had a chance to improve greatly this season.

Even though Oakland had gone 19-61 in the five seasons since it went to the Super Bowl, there was hope. The team had intriguing young talent on offense, some quality players on defense and then there was the schedule. It was a cake walk. Or it was supposed to be. Of the Raiders' first 12 opponents, only one (San Diego) had a winning record in 2007.

With the combination of new talent on offense, veteran toughness on defense and the easy schedule, the Raiders had a legitimate chance of entering December as a playoff contender.

However, with the Christmas shopping season less than two months away, the Raiders aren't in fine shape. They are 1-3 and that schedule isn't looking so easy anymore. Thus, the Raiders enter the Tom Cable era without their ace in the hole.

Of Oakland's 12 remaining opponents, only four have losing records this season. Yes, it is early and some teams could fall flat. But Oakland's schedule is not as easy as it looked before the season. Teams such as Denver, Carolina, Atlanta and Miami have been better than expected. They all face Oakland later this season.

Does that mean the Raiders have no chance of making serious improvement this season? No, not at all. But the crutch is gone. If Oakland is going to improve, it's going to have to earn it.

That's possible. This team has played well in the past three weeks since an opening-game disaster against Denver in which the Raiders were ransacked by 27 points. The Raiders could easily be 3-1 and ready for any sort of schedule. But the fact that they gave up 42 points in the past two fourth quarters turned that 3-1 into a 1-3 record.

The key for Cable is to make sure his team plays as hard for him as it did for Kiffin in the past three games. From all accounts, that shouldn't be a problem. While the team as a whole was fine with Kiffin, the Raiders like Cable, who had been the offensive line coach, as well.

But the Raiders must play hard because there don't seem to be a whole lot of breaks left in the schedule.