The 2009 schedule for the Oakland Raiders is interesting to say the least. It takes us back to the 1970’s as both Dallas and Pittsburgh play host to the Raiders in '09. The much anticipated Thanksgiving Day match-up with Dallas should be must-see-TV, as Jerry Jones opens his $1 billion stadium in NorthTexas City. But regardless of the hoopla surrounding the coming season, these Raiders are at a cross roads. If the team wants to take it to the next level, coaches and players need to be more accountable. In the past, a divided locker room is one of the reasons team development was stifled. This season the Raiders could be on the verge of something big but they have to get more from Russell and McFadden. As a team, two big changes need to occur to break this chain of losing. 1) Play as a team and have an identity. Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, two notable malcontents are long gone. Build around Russell, McFadden and Asomugha. 2) Avoid the long losing streaks; it sounds simple but this has plagued the Raiders for a longtime. Under Art Shell, the team hit rock bottom by losing their last nine games of the season. In 2005, Oakland lost their final six games as Norv Turner was shown the door. In Lane Kiffin’s first year, the team started 2-2 but stumbled through a six game losing streak. With training camp about 5 weeks away the NFL pundits still consider Oakland a lightweight. The first power rankings of the season have been released and predictably the experts rank Oakland 30th. But considering how Miami and Atlanta shocked the world in '08, predictions in June mean very little.
On the other hand, the Raiders have won just 24 games in six seasons. Former Raiders quarterback and NFL analyst Rich Gannon believes the coaching turnover in Oakland has been the problem. Since Jon Gruden left at the end of the 2001 season, the team has shuffled through coaches like Liz Taylor goes through marriages. Now it’s Tom Cable’s turn. The former line coach made strides last season, but nobody is sold on Cable. He’s got to do something big, like put a winner on the field. Can the team be led out of the wilderness by Cable and some savvy veteran leadership? Owner Al Davis thinks the answer is yes. His recent personnel moves say he does. With ex-Cowboy sack master Greg Ellis in the fold, and Jeff Garcia pushing Russell at the QB spot, is that enough to change the culture of losing in Oakland? It certainly can’t hurt. Ellis brings a big time pass rush to the defense and he’s a better run defender than Derrick Burgess. How about Garcia? We’ll he still thinks of himself as a starter. Training camp could be just the beginning of a long quarterback battle. But if Oakland is going to regain their swagger, they must perform well in big games and that hasn’t happened since Gannon, Brown and Rice wore the Silver and Black. Let’s look ahead to the five most important games of the ’09 season for the Oakland Raiders.
Week 1 San Diego @ Oakland: Opening night, here come the San Diego Chargers! But the Bolts could be on the downside of their dominance. Good teams begin to falter after a three or four year window. Free-agency takes its pound of flesh and key players start to get old. If that’s the case here, San Diego will be low hanging fruit this season. Certainly LaDainian Tomlinson is feeling his age. He was able to rush for over 1100 yards in 2008, but his yards per carry (3.8) were the lowest since his rookie season and his touchdowns were way down, only 11 rushing scores. That’s a far cry from the 28 rushing TD's posted in 2006. Last season, Oakland outplayed San Diego in their first meeting. However, a costly turnover by JaMarcus Russell helped the Chargers score 25 points in the 4th quarter and they rallied to beat Oakland 28-18. If the Raiders can forget about last year’s bizarre finish, they might be able break the Bolts mastery over them. This game is obviously more important to Head Coach Tom Cable and that’s why I like the Raiders chances. With Kansas City and Denver looming, the first month of the season is enormous for Oakland. Prediction: Chargers 20 Raiders 24
Week 5 Oakland @ New York Giants: The Raiders have a chance to be above .500 heading into the Giants game. How does Tom Coughlin attack the Raiders? Let Eli Manning hand the ball off to Brandon Jacobs and then throw it deep to Plaxico Burress! …That’s how. The only problem is Burress won’t be there, he could be in jail or playing for the Jets, nobody knows. This match-up could produce another breakout game for Darren McFadden. It has all the intangibles: The game is on turf and the Giants have trouble containing (Brian Westbrook) running backs in the slot position. This could be McFadden’s day to shine. A meaningless game, because it’s out of conference, but none-the-less a great measuring stick for Oakland. Prediction: Raiders 17 Giants 20
Week 11 Oakland @ Dallas: Between the Giants game and Thanksgiving Day, Oakland will play four games at home and one on the road. The lone road game is at the Chargers. If the Raiders can stay within a touchdown, that's a moral victory. Oakland hasn’t beaten the Chargers on the road since 2002 and it hasn’t even been close. I don’t expect that to change this season. Leading up to the Thanksgiving game with Dallas, the Raiders play host to the Bengals and then turn around and play on turkey day in Cowboy Stadium. This is a homecoming game for newly acquired pass rusher Greg Ellis and former Dallas safety Keith Davis. Hard to say if that will make a difference, I think JaMarcus Russell will be pumped. He’ll get to playing in front of friends and family coming in from LSU and Alabama. As far as the game is concerned, Oakland beat Dallas 13-12 the last time these teams hooked up in the Lone Star state. But the bigger question is the departure of Terrell Owens; will Dallas be better off without him? Roy Williams didn’t exactly light up the world after joining the Cowboys and Tony Romo is facing the heat from fans, media and playoff failures. Romo faltered down the stretch last season and has been the goat in two playoff losses. I say the drama continues. Prediction: Raiders 23 Cowboys 17
Week 12 Oakland @ Pittsburgh: The Raiders have a date with the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers in December. Oakland hasn’t played in Pittsburgh since opening day of 2004. The starting quarterback then was Rich Gannon. Jerry Rice started the game and caught two balls. Gannon led a late comeback, but Jeff Reed’s chip shot lifted Pittsburgh to 24-21 victory. Since then, the Steelers have gone on to win two Super Bowls and the Raiders have stayed in NFL purgatory. Oakland shocked the Steelers with a 20-13 upset in 2006, but that was the only highlight of a dismal 2-14 season. For argument sake, let’s assume the Raiders are fighting for the division title and need a victory to remain ahead of the Chargers. San Diego is playing at Cleveland and that sounds like a win for the Bolts. Traditionally, Pittsburgh stops the run, and then runs the ball down your throat. On defense, they force turnovers and set up Rothlisberger on a short field. If things go as scripted and they usually do at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh wins this one going away. Prediction: Raiders 13 Steelers 34
Week 17 Baltimore @ Oakland: I had to amend this pick. Originally, I targeted a late season match-up in Denver as a make or break game. But with all the disarray going on in Dove Valley, I changed things up. Nobody can figure out what’s going on with the Broncos, first Cutler gets traded to the Bears in a player-coach spat. Now All-Pro receiver Brandon Marshall has demanded a trade. If Marshall does leave, that will be a huge set back for the organization. They’ve lost one of the best young arms in Cutler and could lose their biggest playmaker in Marshall. With the Broncos going by the wayside and Kansas City still rebuilding,Oakland will take San Diego down to the wire for the AFC West title. Standing in their way is the big, bad Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have dominated recent meetings with Oakland. Last year’s 29-10 beat-down, wasn’t even that close. JaMarcus Russell was sacked 4-times, including one that resulted in a safety. Baltimore jumped out to 19-0 lead by dominating both sides of the ball. With no ground game, Russell managed to throw for 228 yards and 1 touchdown. But this Raven team is gearing up for a Super Bowl run, so I don’t see the Raiders getting in their way. Prediction: Ravens 26 Raiders 16
Oakland Raiders 2009 Outlook
AFC West : 2nd
Team MVP: Darren McFadden