We’ve reached the second-worst time of the sports year (only the horrific doldrums of February are worse), as only baseball is around to keep us company.
The NBA season has ended with LeBron finally getting his ring, and now all we can do is sit around and wait for the glorious football season to return. To paraphrase Green Day, wake me up when September begins.
If you believe in Vegas odds-makers, the Raiders aren’t a very good bet to win the Super Bowl next season—online sportsbook Bovada.net currently has the Silver and Black at 65-to-1. The Titans, Seahawks, Dolphins and Redskins are all seen as more like to win the title; that’s fairly humbling.
If the Raiders want to beat the odds-makers, it’s going to come down to one man: Carson Palmer. There is no question that Palmer will be the key to the Raiders’ success (or lack thereof).
There was a time when Palmer was seen as one of the few elite quarterbacks in this league, playing well enough to warrant a $118 extension. Then Kimo von Oelhoffen fatefully rolled into Palmer’s leg in the 2006 Wild Card round, causing a catastrophic knee injury.
Palmer has never really been the same since, although he has shown glimpses of his former brilliance now and then.
In the past few years, Palmer has shown a penchant for costly interceptions, while also squeezing the ball into tight windows for incredible completions, causing many a fan to rewind the DVR and ask “Did you just see that?”
He’s been very Jekyll-and-Hyde for the last few years. Why should we believe this year will be any different?
Although Palmer has been paired with some dynamic receivers in his career (T.J. Houshmandzadeh in his prime, the late Chris Henry and Chad Johnson before he changed his name to Ochocinco and started sucking), he’s never had an explosive running game. The running backs he handed the ball to in Cincinnati were always bruisers – guys like Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson.
With Darren McFadden, he finally gets to partner with a fast, agile back who is a genuine home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Don’t forget that Palmer and McFadden played exactly ZERO snaps together last season. Although Michael Bush is a quality back-up, as a starter his running became less and less effective as the season wore on. And even with a neutered running game, Palmer still managed to put up 293 passing yard per game as a starter.
Receiving might finally become a strength for the Raiders this season, after years of struggling to find guys who could both make big plays and stay on the field (looking at you, Lou Murphy).
Darrius Heyward-Bey finally seemed to get it in his third year. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so impatient with the guy. As any longtime fantasy football player will tell you, season three is often a breakout year for young receivers. Surprise, surprise.
Denarius Moore already proved in his rookie season what an impact player he could be, and the Raiders added a physical specimen in Juron Criner through the draft. If everybody stays relatively healthy (admittedly a big "if" with McFadden), this team will have one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
If there’s any improvement on the defense, which was downright embarrassing by season’s end, there’s no reason this team can’t do better than last year’s 8-8 record.
But in the end, it all comes down to Palmer. He’s got weapons, a full offseason with his new team, and added depth on the offensive line (thanks to pick-ups in the draft and free agency). In order for this team to compete in a suddenly scarier AFC West (thanks a lot, Peyton), Palmer will need to be the Raiders’ MVP—and I’m willing to bet that he will be.
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