How the Oakland Raiders Can Win the AFC West in 2009

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IMay 25, 2009

(This article is part of my application as correspondent for CBS.)

Last year, I went out on a limb and claimed that the Raiders would win the AFC West. Though I was right about the Miami Dolphins contending, I was wrong about the Raiders. This year I merely modified the "will" with the "can" to protect my butt. But they better win the AFC West.

I say that because my view is, I as a Raider fan can say anything I want about the Raiders and others cannot impugn me for it. It's what I say about other teams and your team that you can hold me to. I afford others the same benefit.

To me, there's no such thing as an "objective sports journalist." Anyone who tries to say otherwise is a liar. The fact that you cover sports tells me that you were a fan. Thus, why would you cover sports unless you are a fan?

The key is to own your bias, not be owned by it. Personally, if there is an "East Coast Bias," I wouldn't care, so long as those reporters admit to being biased towards East Coast teams. 

Those sports journalists, however, are just afraid to put the veracity of their opinions on the line, so they hide under a shroud of lies and pretend to be neutral, saying the same things every year to their detriment.

For instance, Tony Kornheiser has claimed that "no one but Miami fans" picked the Dolphins to contend in 2008. WRONG! I did. And it wasn't luck, either. 

I usually do the same thing by going against the grain.

In 2002, I predicted exactly how Steve Spurrier would putter out in Washington. I also picked the downfall of "The Greatest Show on Turf" in 2002, and that the Raiders would be in the Super Bowl.

In 2003, I picked the Cowboys to be in the postseason and the rise of the Carolina Panthers by the simple addition of Jake Delhomme after I had seen him on one play for the Saints in 2002.

In 2004, I picked the Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions. I had also predicted that the Boston Red Sox would win the World Series.


Own Thy Bias

If you're a Jets fan, be a Jets fan. Just don't pretend that it's objective to say that other teams cannot compete or that objectivity has a New York or East Coast bias (to parody a phrase by Stephen Colbert).

I get it, many of them grew up in New York. Obviously a great city, but don't get off at Penn Station and claim that the sports world is in chaos when New York teams miss the playoffs.

I'd feel lucky too if I had grown up in New York. As it turned out though, I was lucky to grow up on the sunny coast of the San Francisco Bay—home of the best weather in the country and most of the world. 

Okay, so SF Bay gets an earthquake every so often—I'd take that over hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, electrical storms, and less sunlight any day. Technically, those events (minus hurricanes and less sunlight) can occur anywhere, but usually do not occur in the Bay Area.


The Raiders

To me, most of the Raiders' woes have been psychological—in that they have the talent but get distracted by the lies in the media and Al Davis' attempts to deter misinformation about the Raiders. 

They also get undermined by internal sabotage by people like Michael Lombardi and Lane Kiffin—the two that traded Randy Moss—yet the public will just believe that it is more craziness from Al Davis, thus they can get a job somewhere else. 

In other words: They thought they were on a sinking ship because they believe the lies from sports journalists, so they mutiny against the captain in order to protect their reputation and will even create leaks in order to create the illusion of justification.


The Offseason

Firstly, Al Davis has come out the public victor over Lane Kiffin.

Secondly, the Raiders did not splurge in free agency. They added OT Erik Pears, OT Khalif Barnes, and C Samson Satele to compete for starting spots.

On offense, I think the Raiders should utilize Darren McFadden (when healthy) as a Charlie Garner or Marshall Faulk-type player to run and catch. I also want to see Michael Bush as the lead runner. 

The Raiders have three speedy receivers in place with Johnnie Lee Higgins and rookies Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy. Say what you want about their hands, but their speed demands coverage and prevents double teams.

As for quarterback, the philosophy of Al Davis is to score fast and then run the ball and play defense. This is just a thought, but perhaps the Raiders would benefit by rotating JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia, as Atlanta did with Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. 

Before you make reactionary comparisons between Russell and Vick, the only reason for making that analogy is that rotating quarterbacks is not unprecedented. 

Russell has the arm and the receivers have the speed to score early, but I think Garcia has the experience to control the game after that. The problem that Oakland has had since 2006 is in closing out games.

Despite the records of 2-14, 4-12, and 5-11, the Raiders would lead at halftime and even into the fourth quarter, only to blow the lead (often in the fourth quarter). Maybe then the Raiders can use Garcia like a veteran closer in baseball.

With that said, Heyward-Bey and Higgins have the speed to take a short pass a long way, so I’m tempted to say that Garcia should be the starting quarterback, because the Raiders badly need to change their image and start winning. Once they start winning, winning becomes contagious. 

But I could be wrong about Russell; he could be ready to commit to the study and understanding of all the situations and nuances of the game flow.

As for the defense, I think the Raiders added good talent from the draft with S Michael Marshall and DE Matt Shaughnessy, but I am left wondering as to the direction of the defense: Is this a 3-4 or 4-3 system?

Al Davis wants the best talent on the field, regardless of system—that is what I believe to be true. I know, however, that he is not afraid to be creative with defenses.


The Tackles

Furthermore, Davis seems to believe that Terdell Sands and Gerard Warren are adequate options at defensive tackle, but I remain convinced that the Raiders should acquire a defensive tackle in any trade of Derrick Burgess, nothing less. If they cannot get that need, then keep Burgess.

Other possible suitors for Derrick Burgess: the Seattle Seahawks, the Carolina Panthers, or the New York Giants. The Raiders don't have to trade Burgess to the Patriots—to say so would be a lie.

Seattle needs another rusher to pair with Patrick Kerney, as Lawrence Jackson has struggled and Darryl Tapp is only serviceable. DT Brandon Mebane and RT Ray Willis for DE Derrick Burgess and a low draft pick would be a good trade.

New York doesn't really need another defensive end but has spent the offseason loading up on depth on the defensive line, and appear to have an excess of defensive tackles with Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, and Jay Alford. I would like a swap of Burgess for Cofield.

Carolina still must deal with the Julius Peppers situation and have been hesitant to act, but I think they'd be willing to trade an early draft pick for Burgess in order to move Peppers. Perhaps a multi-team trade would make sense. 

I realize that multi-team trades are rare in the NFL, but are they impossible? I doubt it, thus if it fits your need, then why not?

For instance, the Raiders would send Derrick Burgess and a fourth round draft pick to Carolina for Vince Wilfork, whom Carolina would acquire for Julius Peppers from New England.


Why the Raiders Can Win

For one, the AFC West is not exactly stacked. 

Don't be fooled by San Diego though -- sure they only won 8 to take the division in 2008, but Shawne Merriman will return to the Chargers in 2009, so they should be better just by his return.

With that said, San Diego's secondary is the weak link, while the Raiders have plenty of speed at receiver and talented catchers in Darren McFadden and Zach Miller.

I think the success of the Raiders in 2009 depends almost entirely on the play of the quarterback.  That said, the play of the quarterback often relies on how well the players around him perform.  I think that the Raiders have enough around JaMarcus Russell or Jeff Garcia to contend, but it might be interesting if the Raiders rotate quarterbacks.

Here's one observation I took from the Draft: Denver and San Diego took notice of Oakland's pick of WR Derrius Heyward-Bey.  I believe that because of San Diego's selection of LB Larry English and Denver's second-round pick, CB Alphonso Smith.

That tells me that San Diego and Denver felt they needed additional help at otherwise strong positions.  Denver even traded a 2019 first round pick in order to select Smith.

Denver and Kansas City are essentially in rebuild mode but should not be taken for granted.

What do you think, Raider Nation?