Monday night madness starts again for the 2011 season and the Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos are up first on the menu. After finishing .500 for the first time since their Super Bowl loss in 2002, the Raiders lost some key players.
Nnamdi Asomugha, the best corner in football, has joined the so-called "dream team" in Philadelphia. Tight end Zach Miller and right guard Robert Gallery are "not losers anymore" in Seattle with Tom Cable.
So what kind of team do the Raiders have now?
If the Raiders are victorious Monday night, there will be no respect earned from the media. However, if they lose, it will be looked upon as a major step back and they will question why Cable wasn't brought back.
They will also question why the Raiders didn't put in a big bid for Miller to be back with the team. Then they will speak of how the Raiders are still dysfunctional and that's why Asomugha and Gallery left after time served.
To put it to you bluntly, the Raiders will be put back on the flea list, where they've been for years now.
They might even be put on the Andrew Luck list.
I believe the Raiders will win but it will be the perfect opening night test to see where the Raiders are.
Turn the page to see how.
I have maintained all along that the Raiders' secondary will be fine once Chris Johnson got healthy. Many believe the unit is done without Asomugha, citing the passing yards the Raiders gave up this preseason.
But that was with rookie third-round corner Demarcus Van Dyke guarding number one receivers. That clearly won't be the case during the season with a healthy Raider team at corner.
This means Johnson has to go out there and show that he's 100 percent healthy. Last year, in the first Bronco game, Johnson had a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown to establish himself with the Broncos.
I suspect that Routt will be the Raiders' new shutdown guy as he has shown this preseason. Johnson had a top five burn percentage last year along with Routt so I expect the number one and two Broncos' receivers not to do much.
Michael Huff will be the nickel corner and I think Chimdi Chekwa looks more ready than Van Dyke.
Denver has done nothing to improve their putrid, worse than the Raiders' run defense. The Broncos, now under John Fox, just switched to the 4-3 so center Samson Satele will be off the hook for this one.
Right guard Cooper Carlisle and left guard Stefen Wisniewski should also be off the hook as the Broncos don't have a run stuffer on the team. Running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush should once again have their way in the game.
Elvis Dummerville is back and looks as good as he ever has, so Jared Veldheer will get his first test for 2011. I was down on him last year as a left tackle, but so far Veldheer looks like he has improved immensely and can be that guy.
If he gives up one sack, it's not the end of the world, but how he plays after that will tell us where he is. If he doesn't give up a sack at all, that will show us that he is close or has arrived as a franchise left tackle.
This is important because all of the elite teams have a solid left tackle.
Khalif Barnes was once a decent left tackle in Jacksonville that couldn't get a break after becoming a Raider. He now has his chance to start at right tackle and he will get tested by first-round outside linebacker Von Miller.
Miller will see plenty of blitzes as a linebacker, but I expect him to have his hand in the dirt on third down, lined up over Barnes. Barnes has to show that he can play in a noisy, hostel environment without getting the nervous twitch to false start.
This is his chance to show that he is up to the task or he'll have to go stand at the back of the line.
Put up or shut up!
The Raiders need improvement at right tackle too, so Barnes does it or gives way to Joseph Barksdale.
The Raiders have been trying to solve the riddle that is called "stopping the run" for eight years now. They have a penetrating, murderers row of a defensive line so that leaves it up to the linebackers.
Rolando McClain, now in his second year, is starting to look like he has middle linebacker instincts to go with his physicality. Wimbley balled out last year and now looks to play up to the huge contract he got for it.
Groves, the weak link, is in his second year as a linebacker and looks to have really improved so far. Monday night we will see if he has improved enough and can play consistently so the Raiders can stop the run.
John Fox, no matter where he is, brings a physical, smash-mouth running game to the table. Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee make a formidable stable at Fox's disposal.
The running game is what Raider Nation should fear in this game.
The Raiders are now very deep at the receiver position.
This has become an even more important position as Miller is gone and I believe it's because the Raiders' staff is banking on them. Many have clamoured for Denarius Moore and Derek Hagan to start at receiver because of the preseason—but not so fast.
Doug Gabriel, Ronald Curry and Nick Miller have all come in and had great preseasons over the years and neither ever became a star. I'm not saying that's how the two will end up, but let's see them in real game action before crowning them.
Darrius Heyward-Bey isn't there yet, we know Jacoby Ford is ready to become a "household name" and Louis Murphy will be out a while longer. So the test is for the often injured but supremely talented Chaz Schilens, who is allegedly healthy now.
Okay, he's going to play but is he 100 percent or healthy enough to help the team?
Most of Raider Nation doesn't want to talk about him right now but he has too much talent for me not to. Plus as of right now, he is allegedly healthy so his talent should be used if he is.
It doesn't matter if he starts because he will be in when it matters like his game-winning touchdown in 2009.
Thank you Roger Goodell!
Not only did he give the Raiders Monday Night Football but against the perfect opponent in every way. This game is the perfect way to see where the Raiders are without having to lose the game.
The rookies also get to see action in a hostile environment with deafening crowd noise against a division rival. The Raiders should win this one but I hope Hue Jackson or Al Davis and company see where the team really is when this one is over.
Goodness forbid they lose the game!