Oakland Raiders: 5 Keys to an AFC West Title in 2011

Kasey ScottAnalyst IAugust 16, 2011

Oakland Raiders: 5 Keys to an AFC West Title in 2011

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    With teams like the San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs headlining the AFC West, don't sleep on the Oakland Raiders in 2011. 

    Only two games separated first from third last season in the AFC West and it should be very competitive in the division again this season. 

    New head coach Hue Jackson has already come out and stated that he believes that this team can win the AFC West and even the Super Bowl. 

    While talking about the keys to an AFC West title, we won't be looking at individual players. We all know football is a team sport and winning a division does not ride on one player. We will also be looking at the schedule when it comes to the keys for the Raiders. 

    With that said, let's check out the five keys to an AFC West title in Oakland. 

5) Beating the Division

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    Even in 2011 it seems hard to believe that the Raiders swept their division in 2010. They went a perfect 6-0 against the AFC West, but still missed the playoffs. 

    The Raiders will have a golden opportunity to beat an AFC West foe in week one when they play the rebuilding Denver Broncos on the road. 

    After the Broncos, the Raiders will get a five week break before they play another divisional opponent. They will get the Kansas City Chiefs in week seven on October 23rd prior to their bye week. 

    The seven games prior to the bye week only holds two games for the Raiders against the AFC West, but will be a great measuring stick for them. 

    Following the bye week, the Raiders get the Denver Broncos in week 10 at home. After the Broncos game, they must travel to San Diego in week 11 to face off against the Chargers. 

    Finishing off the season strong for the Raiders will be huge as they take on the Chiefs in week 16 on the road and the Chargers at home in week 17. 

    If the Raiders can go 4-2 or better against the AFC West, that would be huge. 

4) Playing Better on the Road

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    Remember week one in 2010?

    The Raiders were on the road in Tennessee playing the Titans. Expectations were high and the Raiders were obviously highly unprepared when they got thumped 38-13. 

    Following that ugly loss at Tennessee, the Raiders lost their next two road games at the Cardinals in week three and at the 49ers in week six. Both teams finished under .500 and that cannot happen in 2011.

    After a tough loss in San Francisco, the Raiders came out and dominated the Broncos on the road in week seven 59-14. 

    The Raiders came off their bye week to visit the Steelers in week 11. The Steelers were happy to see the Raiders as they won 35-3. 

    Beating the Chargers in San Diego 28-13 in week 13 was huge, but then followed it up with a disappointing 38-31 loss at Jacksonville in week 14. 

    A 31-10 win at Kansas City in week 17 was diluted because the Chiefs had already clinched the AFC West title. 

    The Raiders first two games of the season are on the road and will tell how the 2011 season will go. The Raiders could easily start out 2-0 as they play at Denver in week one and at Buffalo in week two.

    Green Bay, Houston, Miami, San Diego, Kansas City and Minnesota round out the Raiders road schedule in 2011. A 3-5 road record in 2010 was simply not good enough and the Raiders will need to be a lot better in 2011 away from home.  

3) Rushing Success

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    The Raiders' rushing offense was No. 2 overall in the league with 155.9 rushing yards per game. They were second to their division rival Kansas City. 

    Darren McFadden finished 12th overall in total rushing yards in the NFL in 2010. He was able to achieve 1,157 yards in only 13 games. 

    McFadden piled up seven touchdowns on a 5.2 YPC. He finally lived up to his true potential in 2010. 

    In 2011, expectations for McFadden have skyrocketed. He is currently ranked at 12th on ESPN.com among fantasy running backs. 

    There is no denying the fact that Darren McFadden is a very talented running back. There is also no denying the fact that McFadden is injury-prone, as he has yet to play through an entire season. 

    The Oakland Raiders offense revolves around the running game. That was evident in 2010 and it will remain evident this year. 

    McFadden's backup in 2010 was Michael Bush. Bush accumulated 655 yards on 158 carries for eight touchdowns in 2010. 

    The Raiders went out and gave Bush a one-year $2.61 million contract. He will be a key component to the Raiders' running game as well. 

    Bush will get opportunities to score in the red zone. He also is a very solid backup to McFadden.

    If the Raiders are going to win the AFC West, the running game will need to be top five in terms of yards per game. Look for both McFadden and Bush to have solid seasons in 2011. 

2) Secondary After Nnamdi Asomugha

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    Nnamdi Asomugha did not have a single interception in 2010, but still made the AFC Pro Bowl team. 

    This tells you the impact that Nnamdi had on every opposing team's passing game. It wasn't "Revis Island", but rather "Nnamdi Island".

    Even with Nnamdi, the Raiders ranked 28th in terms of passing yards against with 290 per game. The Raiders ranked 19th in terms of rushing yards against, so the defense will need to step up as a whole. 

    The team spent a bunch of money on cornerback Stanford Routt, who honestly needs to go out and show that he is not overrated and now overpaid. His five-year $54.5 million contract is the third-highest average for a cornerback ever. 

    In six NFL seasons, Routt has six interceptions. He did record 55 tackles in 2010, 26 more than his previous career high. 

    Starting free safety Michael Huff was signed to a four-year $32 million contract. Huff was second on the team in 2010 with 94 total tackles. 

    Veteran corner Chris Johnson has had at least two picks in each of the three seasons, but was not a starter in 2010. 

    Starting strong safety Tyvon Branch led the team in tackles in 2010 with 104. Branch only had one pick, but had two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. 

    The secondary will be a major focus post Nnamdi Asomugha. 

1) Consistent Passing Game

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    The ESPN.com preseason rankings have the Raiders at 23. The main reason? Jason Campbell and his receivers. 

    Jason Campbell had a decent 2010 throwing for 2,387 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The problem for Campbell was the fact that out of 16 games, he eclipsed 200+ yards only six times. 

    Now I'm not saying that Campbell needs to throw for 300+ yards every game, but he needs to stay consistent in order to open things up for the Raiders' running game. 

    In the opening slide, I mentioned that these keys will not simply be about one player. The passing game does not solely rely on Campbell. 

    With the loss of Zach Miller, the Raiders lost their leading receiver from 2010. Miller led all Raiders' receivers with 60 receptions, 685 yards and five touchdowns. 

    Kevin Boss was brought in to replace Miller, but Boss is a downgrade in terms of a receiving tight end. 

    The wide receiver position has been a huge problem for the Raiders in the past few seasons. 

    Louis Murphy led all wide receivers with 41 catches, 609 yards and two touchdowns. Murphy accomplished all of that in 14 games and is currently dealing with a groin injury. 

    Second-year receiver Jacoby Ford had two huge games last season, but he too is hurting with a hand injury. 

    2009 first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey has yet to make a true impact in the Raiders' passing game, as his best season came in 2010 with 26 receptions, 366 yards, and 1 TD. Heyward-Bey has been proclaimed as a bust and 2011 may make or break for him as a Raider.

    Fifth-round pick Denarius Moore has impressed in training camp and may get an opportunity to contribute in 2011. Moore had three catches for 37 yards in the Raiders first preseason game and if Murphy and Ford miss anytime, then Moore could fill in.