The Raiders used to be the marauding scourge of the NFL. Then they became a punch line, cartoon villains foiled by their own dastardly, silly plans.
This season, the Raiders have become survivors. They are 8-7 despite all odds, and they can reach the playoffs two ways: Capture the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss, or earn a wild-card berth with a win and an elaborate-but-not-impossible combination of losses around the AFC.
The Raiders are on the brink of their first playoffs since 2002 because of all they've had to overcome: injuries at quarterback and other skill position starters, the death of Al Davis, a midseason swoon that swallowed other hot-starting teams the Bills and Redskins, and Tebowmania — or at least they've been able to swim in its wake.
The Raiders could easily be the Bears: Their hopes dashed, their coach’s job in jeopardy, their whole roster shrugging its shoulders and saying “sorry, we had too many injuries.” The Raiders are still around because they play in an easier division, but also because they made the kind of daring moves they were famous for in their heyday, taking chances other teams were not bold enough to take.