Many people would have read this headline in the past and immediately sent Bleacher Report a letter about heresy on their website.
But in the 2010 NFL season, there’s a different smell in the Bay Area.
And no, it’s not due to BP.
The Oakland Raiders opened training camp to a feeling of confidence for the first time in quite some time. Under head coach and fat Bruce Willis impersonator Tom Cable, the Black Hole may finally have something to love.
Other than the gorgeous dance team.
In the past eight years, the Raiders have not won more than five games in any season, making the AFC West cellar their home. To twist the knife even further, Oakland has only seen the playoffs three times since 1995.
So why the confidence?
The easiest place to start is at quarterback. Last season, the three-headed monster of JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, and Charlie Frye combined for only 10 touchdowns through the air, with an average QB rating of 65.3.
Enter Jason Campbell.
The former Redskins signal caller alone threw for more yards last season than the entire Raiders team and doubled their touchdown output.
For Raiders fans who have watched a different opening day starter nearly every season since Rich Gannon left, they must like the look of their future.
Some people see Campbell as a middle-of-the-road quarterback, but he certainly has upside. He’s improved his QB rating and passing yards every season in the NFL, and that was on a team that gave him the same protection as a broken condom.
Yes, I realize the Raiders were just as bad up front. But a lot has changed this offseason.
First, Robert Gallery returns healthy to left guard, which is critical to stopping sacks. He and his fellow linemen last year were unaccustomed to offensive line coach Jim Michalczik’s scheme, but with a year under their belts, they will be much better.
If not, Cable can fill in. He could play left guard AND left tackle.
However, improving the line isn’t all the Raiders need to succeed. The running backs have to step up in order to stop teams from dropping eight into coverage.
Darren McFadden and Michael Bush will be charged with that task. McFadden was hurt for a lot of last year, and he’s known for his explosiveness. Couple that with Bush, who averaged nearly five yards per carry, and there’s a young, talented tandem.
Even the Wallendas are jealous.
After the tailbacks, it comes down to the receivers. When catching balls from Russell, it’s impossible to statistically show your true form. People disparage Oakland’s wide out capabilities, but there’s plenty of depth to be exploited.
Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, and Johnnie Lee-Higgins will be critical. They’ve all improved as route runners, but if the can work on breaking away from defenders and creating separation, this can be an extremely dangerous core.
Additionally, the defense is not one to mess with. Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and new addition John Henderson make up a strong front four, and if they apply pressure, the opposing QB is throwing into a top 10 coverage unit.
Nnamdi Asomugha is the highest-paid defensive back for a reason. He invented the island.
Take that, Darrelle Revis.
Even with all that improvement, some might argue the AFC West is still a tough road to navigate. Luckily for the Raiders, 2010 looks like the year the teams around them crumble.
The defending West champs, the San Diego Chargers, are having some personnel issues. They lost Antonio Cromartie and LaDainian Tomlinson, and Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman, and Vincent Jackson are threatening to sit out until Week 10.
Sounds stable. Lohan family stable.
The runners-up, the Denver Broncos, haven’t looked so sharp either. Broncos brass dealt away their best (and only) receiver, Brandon Marshall, and starting quarterback Kyle Orton has to deal with Tim Tebow hanging over him.
Jesus has an awfully big shadow.
Side note: Notice there’s no mention of the Chiefs. It’s for an obvious reason.
So while it’s no guarantee that the Raiders take the division, 2010 holds the first real opportunity for the Black Hole. With the two teams above them slipping, Oakland will need to take advantage of its weak schedule.
Can they win the AFC West? Yes.
Will they? Just wait and see.
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