ALAMEDA -- When the Raiders last played a home game, they were a 1-1 team preparing to begin a lengthy road trip that many believed would sink their season.
Playing five straight games away from home -- all against playoff-caliber opponents -- is a lot of any team to overcome, much less a rebuilding team whose wide receiving corps has been turned upside down and whose defense had just been diced up by the Chiefs.
Sure enough, the Raiders opened the road trip by getting punked by the Vikings, a Week 3 blowout that had many waving goodbye to Jon Gruden's club. But the Raiders didn't fold. Instead, they rebounded with back-to-back wins over the Colts and Bears to ensure the long odyssey wouldn't doom their campaign.
They were outgunned in a Week 7 loss to the Packers. The journey came to a close with a loss to the Texans in Week 8, a game the Raiders let slip through their fingers, sending them back home at 3-4.
Still, the trip proved to the Raiders and the NFL that the Silver and Black can compete with the best in the league. A 3-4 record after a grueling trip is nothing for the Raiders to hang their head over. With the AFC having a down year, the Raiders are just 1 1/2 games behind the Texans for a wild-card spot, with winnable games coming up.
Their performance, especially in the last four games of the trip, showed what they can do.
"Well, we feel like we're pretty good," Gruden told the media Wednesday. "I feel like we are getting better and that's all we can control. We are just going to try and keep getting better every day. We would have liked to have had the last win, but there are a lot of teams in this league right now who are just hanging on. It's a tough business. We got a lot of injuries, we've had some tough deals, but I love this team."
Sunday's game against the Lions will kick off a second half of the schedule that is far easier than the Raiders' opening seven games. November will see the Raiders face the Lions, the struggling Chargers and Bengals at home before visiting the punchless New York Jets.
All four of those games are winnable. At least two of them are losable, especially for a young team that's rebuilding. Other than a Dec. 1 game in Kansas City, December also sets up well for the Raiders, with bouts against the Jaguars and Titans at home and road games at the Chargers and in Denver against the Broncos,
Aside from the Chiefs, who are without quarterback Patrick Mahomes, none of those teams should scare the Raiders. The Chargers have a boatload of talent, but they have scuffled to a 3-5 start and just fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. A loss to the Packers in Week 9 could send the Bolts' season down the drain and make them ripe for picking off.
After going through a road gauntlet almost unheard of in the NFL and coming out still breathing, the Raiders believe they can do what seemed impossible after Week 3.
"We never have a doubt," quarterback Derek Carr said about making a run at the playoffs. "We know we have a very good football team, we just have to put it all together. All three phases, every game. Be clean, be efficient. Try and eliminate the penalties, that kind of stuff. If we can do that, we feel very confident we can play with anybody. Right now we have to take care of business this week and get a home win against a good football team."
The Lions will pose a big challenge to the Raiders. Like Oakland, they enter Week 9 with their playoff hopes teetering on a razor's edge. They are a talented team, getting great play from quarterback Matt Stafford and a defense that has frustrated the Chiefs and Packers.
A loss Sunday to the Lions likely would put a fork in any playoff talk for the Raiders.
But a win would get them to 4-4 with a Thursday night game against a banged-up Chargers team coming up in Week 10, with the Bengals and Jets to follow.
Is a four-game winning streak in the cards? Even three of four would get the Raiders to 6-5, with four winnable games remaining on the schedule.
The path is there. Can the Raiders walk it?