Obviously, it's difficult to know how sincere Brandt's prediction really is. Does he honestly believe the Raiders have a chance to win the division, or is he just throwing out a prediction he knows will get people talking?
Hoping to get an answer to this question, I dug around in some of his previous chats in the hopes that he might have elaborated further. What I managed to find, spread out over a few different chats, were the following points:
• Brandt feels Oakland will have a strong running game.
• He thinks they've drafted well as of late, and – unlike most -- didn't seem to be negative about the first two picks the Raiders made this year.
• Tom Cable is a good coach.
• Everything depends on JaMarcus Russell.
Taking all of this into account, Brandt is clearly making a sincere prediction. The reason it seems so unusual is that he holds a key opinion or two about the Raiders that put him in a distinct minority.
Saying the Raiders will run the ball well isn't much of a stretch – they had a top 10 rushing offense last year. The praise for Cable is certainly valid, as he did a good job in his first season. But if you asked 50 people to come up with a scenario where the Raiders make the playoffs this year, most would base it around Jeff Garcia taking over at quarterback.
Brandt clearly has confidence in Russell that few outside of Al Davis' private office seem to share. More than anything else, that seems to be the basis for his prediction. He doesn't forecast any gloom or doom for San Diego, so picking the Raiders to win the division seems to suggest a belief that they could actually put up a winning record this year if Russell manages to deliver.
Personally, I'm not seeing the sort of things from Russell that Brandt apparently is. His development on the field seemed more like baby steps than big strides, and his commitment off the field remains in question.
Barring some unforeseen disaster with the Chargers, I wouldn't expect there to be much of a division race this year.
Gil Brandt is an NFL scouting legend. He predicted Dwayne Bowe would be the next Michael Irvin before the 2007 draft, and so far that prediction isn't far off base. Before this year's draft, he predicted the Raiders would take a wide receiver with their first pick, and of course they drafted Darius Heyward-Bey. Normally, we should have no reason to doubt much of anything Brandt says.
But in matters involving the Oakland Raiders, his recent track record isn't great, which makes you wonder if he's biased for them. Apparently Brandt and Raiders owner Al Davis go way back, but really it has nothing to do with that.
Before the 2008 season, in a brief video interview for nfldraftmag.blogspot.com, Brandt expressed how thrilled he was with Oakland's free-agent crop. That crop included such great players as Javon Walker, DeAngelo Hall, Gibril Wilson, Kwame Harris, and Justin Griffith.
Russell looks tubby these days!
Paul Sakuma - AP
Brandt also expressed approval over the fact Oakland gave defensive tackle Tommy Kelly a huge contract. Kelly had some nice individual statistics (4.5 sacks), but the Raiders ranked 31st in run defense. Maybe I have no clue about NFL defensive line play, but it seems to me when you make a defensive tackle the highest-paid defensive tackle in league history, he ought to be more of a presence against the run.
And speaking of their defense, what have the Raiders done to improve that side of the ball this offseason? Oakland actually took an enormous step back on defense in 2008, giving up, on average, a full touchdown more per game compared to 2007. They didn't pick up any notable defenders in free agency this year, and didn't make a huge defensive splash in the draft, either.
Forget about JaMarcus Russell. If the Raiders don't fix that awful defense, they won't come close to the AFC West title.
Gil Brandt has seen it all in his decades of watching NFL Football but how does he go about predicting his division champions year in and year out? We've all spent numerous seasons as unhappy Chiefs fans watching the NFL experts pick other teams to win the AFC West. There isn't any secret that the Chiefs are a long shot to make the playoffs in 2009 and likely 2010 but are they the worst team in the division? No, that honor now belongs to the Oakland Raiders.
Brandt's prediction actually angered me. How can he say the Raiders are the team to beat in the division while indicating his disappointment in JaMarcus Russell, who may tip the 300-pound scale this year? The Raiders drafted him two years ago and he's been nothing short of awful. He's slow, out of shape and by far the worst quarterback in the AFC West. In fact I'd say he's the weakest starting quarterback in all of the NFL.
The Raiders always seem to be the sexy pick but I can't understand the fascination. They clearly get more love than most bad teams based on the fact they actually have some primetime television appearances this year. But this team is so bad and so poorly coached (Paul Hackett, really?) that I can't why see a man like Brandt would make such a prediction.
The San Diego Chargers are still the class of the division and the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders fall behind them. Where those teams finish up is a mystery at this point but I can't see any scenario that places the Silver and Black anywhere near the top of the division.