49ers vs. Raiders: Can Oakland Make Bay Area Battle Interesting?

Steve Maze@N/ACorrespondent IIMay 30, 2012

49ers vs. Raiders: Can Oakland Make Bay Area Battle Interesting?

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    After a 13-3 regular-season record and trip to the NFC championship game, it's clear why the San Francisco 49ers are the football darlings of the Bay Area. In those glistening red and gold uniforms, the 49ers adopted coach Jim Harbaugh's philosophies and had the best turnaround in the league last season.

    Across the bay, the Raiders, who started hot with Jason Campbell and finished mild with Carson Palmer, finished third in the AFC West despite having the same 8-8 record as the division-winning Denver Broncos. Dennis Allen, with an offseason to teach Carson Palmer the playbook, will look to take the Raiders back to the playoffs for the first time since their loss in Super Bowl XXXVII (2003).

    Let's now look at some of the factors in the 2012-2013 season that could swing the football fanatics of the Bay Area to follow Raider nation this coming fall.

49ers' Record Likely to Slip in 2012

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    While 13-3 is an achieving record, it does lead to one potential problem...little room for improvement.

    Looking toward the schedule the 49ers will be playing in 2012-2013, it's highlighted by away games against the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.

    While the 2012 49ers talent alone may be capable of winning 13 regular-season games, in the NFL, the schedule must also provide a 13-win season. Trips to those four road destinations, mixed in with home games against the Detroit Lions and New York Giants mean one thing—if the 49ers earn a bye in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs for a second straight year, they earned it.

    The 49ers are a good team, and a trip to the Jets and Saints are definitely not as intimidating as two years ago—i.e. winnable. But improving upon a 13-3 record with this year's schedule would most likely mean sweeping the division and only losing at Lambeau and Foxboro—an extremely tall task.

Plenty of Room for Improvement

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    The silver and black, who finished the season 4-5 in Carson Palmer's only nine starts, have the pieces in place to make some noise in the AFC West.

    Despite losing RB Michael Bush to free agency, the Raiders still have a solid foundation on offense that includes Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey and speedster Denarius Moore.

    Whether the Raiders improve upon their 8-8 record, though, will depend on the play of Palmer, as he is the franchise man after the midseason trade last year.

    Palmer finished the season with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the nine games he started. If the Raiders are going to become the prominent team in the Bay Area, though, Palmer will need to channel his early Cincinnati days.

    With weapons such as McFadden and Moore, the thought is not far-fetched.

AFC West Got Tough

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    Any time a future Hall of Famer enters the division, one would at least hope he plays an unglamorous position, such as tackle or guard.

    The Raiders though did not have such luck, as instead, they must now deal with Peyton Manning twice a year. Manning, the former quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, has made the playoffs in 11 of the 13 seasons he's played.

    For the Raiders, the importance of winning the division title is huge as wild-card spots in the AFC are extremely competitive.

    Depending on how quickly Manning vibes with the Broncos, the Raiders may need to win 10 or 11 games to make the playoffs next year—no simple task.

    Their cross-town counterpart though...

49ers Still Prime to Make the Playoffs

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    As illustrated by the difficult schedule, the 49ers will likely not be winning as many games in this upcoming season as last.

    That said, the division is still one of the weaker in the league, and the NFC is not nearly as competitive for wild-card positions as the AFC.

    The 49ers, who went 5-1 in the division last year, are still heavy favorites to win another NFC West division crown. Because of the difficult schedule though, a bye during the Wild Card Rounds will be tough to repeat.

    That said, home playoffs games attract fans, and looking post-draft, the cards are lining up for playoff success in San Francisco.

    Oakland, on the other hand, may still be a year away. With the offensive weapons and a healthy Carson Palmer though, the Raiders need look no further than last year's 49ers to see exactly how quickly a team can turn things around.