COMMENTARY | With the release of the NFL schedule every year comes excitement and uncertainty from fans all over the country anxiously hoping that this is the year their team makes the playoffs.
As the Oakland Raiders prepare for their second season under general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, an improved record is sure to come after the release of their favorable schedule.
According to NFL.com, the Raiders have the league's fourth-easiest schedule, facing teams with a combined record of 120-136 from last season.
Though such an easy schedule awaits them, no win is a "cupcake" for the Raiders, especially since they're coming off a miserable 4-12 season in 2012 and now face a brand-new identity after McKenzie's rebuilding overhaul.
Even though Oakland has a sub-.500 schedule of competition, there are still some tough games on the calendar.
Here are the Raiders' five toughest matchups in 2013:
Week 3: at Denver BroncosOakland got absolutely demolished in Denver last season as the Raiders suffered one of their worst losses of the year at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Broncos held the Raiders to just two field goals in the 37-6 blowout, and Peyton Manning threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns on Oakland's horrid secondary.
This is Oakland's first divisional game of the season, and it couldn't have come against a more difficult opponent.
Week 10: at New York GiantsWeeks 8-11 are Oakland's most difficult on the schedule, and right in the middle of that stretch is a road trip to The Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants.
The Giants went 6-2 at home last season and outscored their opponents 278-176 in those eight games. That doesn't bode well for Oakland.
Week 11: at Houston TexansThe Houston Texans are one of the best teams in the NFL, let alone the AFC.
They also have one of the best offenses, with one of the league's best running backs to match. This is Oakland's final game of a difficult four-game stretch, and it will be very hard to take down this Houston team.
Oh yeah, Houston's defense isn't that bad, either.
Week 13: at Dallas Cowboys (Thanksgiving)This year, the Raiders have the luxury (sort of) of playing on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys.
Even though the Cowboys don't always win on Thanksgiving, Tony Romo plays lights out. Romo suffered his first Thanksgiving Day loss last season to the Washington Redskins, but even then he torched their defense for 441 yards and and three touchdowns.
This is also Oakland's third road game in a four-week span.
Week 17: vs. Denver BroncosI grew up despising the Denver Broncos. Just seeing blue and orange together still upsets my stomach immensely.
The Raiders close out the season at home against their arch-rivals, and it's games like these where they need to show what they are really made of.
Last season, Oakland put up a bad performance against the Broncos at home on "Thursday Night Football," but you could tell the team played with heart.
That's what they need to do this year against a Super Bowl favorite like Denver, a team that would like nothing more than to spoil Oakland's party by winning in the Black Hole.
Steven Slivka is a Freelance Writer for the Oakland Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter @StevenSlivka.
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