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The Raiders Are Lame Ducks, Again

The Oakland Raiders’ wanderlust is never ending. On Monday, the team gained league approval to move to Las Vegas. It comes at a strange time for the Raiders, since they’ve just recently gotten pretty good! They won 12 games last season, making the playoffs and seeming to be well-positioned to stay strong with Derek Carr under center.

But Raiders fans — old-timers in Oakland and new ones awaiting the team in Las Vegas — shouldn’t expect the team to tank all of a sudden. Eight NFL teams have moved since the AFL-NFL merger (not counting the current Raiders or Chargers, who are slated to move to Los Angeles this year), and as you can see in the chart below, immediate results have been mixed:

The Raiders reportedly don’t plan to move until 2019, so they still have two “lame duck” seasons to play in Oakland. Playing with one foot out the door hasn’t gone well for other franchises:

  • In 1996, the Houston Oilers announced that they were moving to Tennessee but would play their remaining two years in Houston. The first lame-duck season was something of a farcical attendance disaster, as they played to mostly empty stadiums and hostile crowds at home. They went 2-6 in Houston while going 6-2 on the road. After the season, they reached a deal to leave town a year early.
  • In 1995, the Cleveland Browns started out 4-5 under head coach Bill Belichick, after going 11-5 the year before. Then owner Art Modell dropped the bomb that he was moving the team to Baltimore at the end of the year. The Browns went 1-6 after the announcement and then fired Bill Belichick. Well done!

However, the Raiders have experience in making the best of a lame situation. In 1980, Al Davis announced a deal to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, but the NFL rejected the move. His team continued playing in Oakland while the court battle was ongoing, playing two seasons before Davis won the right to move. In the first of those, the Raiders won the Super Bowl despite being (sort of) on their way out. They also won the Super Bowl after the 1983 season, their second in LA.

So, if history is any indication, the modern-day Raiders’ move could lead to them sinking their franchise and possibly missing out on being the NFL’s next dynasty or, well, kind of being the NFL’s next dynasty.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.