If you've been following the 2010 Raiders offseason at all, and you probably have if you're reading this, then you know that for the first time in many years, there is legitimate optimism about the upcoming season.
Usually, despite the best efforts of Raider Nation to keep a positive outlook, the pundits will bring you back down to earth and tell you how you shouldn't expect much out of the Raiders. If the past seven seasons tell you anything, they've usually been right.
But this time around, things are different. Not only do fans have a reason to be hopeful, but the talking heads and so-called experts have been justifying that hope as well.
On the heels of arguably the most successful draft class in recent memory, the guys over at ESPN, FOX Sports and other major sports networks are singing the praises of Tom Cable and company. Former Raider head coach Jon Gruden has said that this team is not one to sleep on, and that the Raiders are definitely a contender for the AFC West title.
We here at S&BI agree that the 2010 season is the Raiders' best chance at a division title in seven seasons. However, despite the improvements the team has made to the roster, our optimism is a bit more guarded.
Coming into the offseason, the two areas the team had to address were the offensive and defensive lines. Above all else, those two units best dictate the outcome of a game, and it was in those two areas the Raiders have struggled most.
The defensive line certainly got an upgrade with the additions of second round pick Lamarr Houston and veteran defensive tackle John Henderson. Richard Seymour was brought back for another season, Tommy Kelly trimmed down and second-year end Matt Shaughnessy is looking like he'll have a breakout year.
The offensive line, however, continues to be a major concern.
Mario Henderson returns at left tackle, and three years into his career, he has yet to show himself as a franchise quality bookend. Henderson is probably an average tackle by NFL standards, and against the 49ers in the preseason, it was Henderson who was beat badly on the pass rush that allowed Jason Campbell to take a blindside hit.
Robert Gallery is the Raiders' best offensive lineman at left guard, but that's only when he's healthy. Last season, Gallery lost plenty of playing time to a laundry list of injuries, so his healthy will be a major hurdle the team will have to overcome.
Rookie Jared Veldheer beat out Samson Satele for the starting center spot, and that comes as a relief for us at S&BI. Satele drew much of our ire this preseason for his lack of strength and his inability to hold at the line. Veldheer, despite his youth and inexperience, is the better option at this point, and he showed that with his fine play this preseason. Veldheer has good strength and does an adequate job getting off the line and moving to the second level. Although he's 6-8, his body is well proportioned for the center position, and because of his short arms, he's probably better suited at center than he is at tackle.
Cooper Carlisle returns at right guard, but his skills have diminished considerably in recent years. He just isn't the same player he once was and it will be interesting to see if backup Bruce Campbell can challenge for the spot as the season progresses. Campbell of course is the athletic specimen that many thought the Raiders would take in the first round, but instead, found him in the fourth. As athletically gifted as he is, Campbell is raw and needs to put on more weight. But the staff has already shown their willingness to play youngsters with Veldheer, so if Campbell shows gradual improvement, the spot might be his come season's end.
Right tackle continues to be an issue for the Raiders. Khalif Barnes was brought back and early on, it was thought he had an inside track at the starting job. However, Barnes is now second on the depth chart at left guard, and instead, Langston Walker reclaims the spot.
In addition to issues on the line, health will be concern for the 2010 season. It's almost a mute point because health is always an issue for any team, but given the way the preseason ended, losing anyone for an extended period of time would be a detriment.
Jason Campbell is obviously one of the main cogs in this Raiders offense. His addition was a major upgrade and made the team into a legitimate contender in the division. A healthy Jason Campbell could mean two or three more wins for the Raiders, so that puts the team in the seven or eight win column—a great improvement for a team that hasn't won over five in seven years.
The team opens the season on the road against the Titans on Sunday. It's certainly possible for the Raiders to pull out a victory, but discussion starts and ends with Chris Johnson. The Raiders will be improved this season in their ability to stop the run, but asking them to stop the NFL's top rusher might be asking too much. Add to that the revitalized play of the mobile Vince Young, and we have the Raiders dropping their first game.
The Rams come to Oakland and Week 2, and you certainly think the Raiders have the edge against a poor Rams team with a rookie quarterback. Sam Bradford, the first overall pick in this year's draft, will be making his road debut, and if there is one thing the Raiders have done well this preseason, it's definitely their ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Chalk up a win for the Silver and Black.
The team travels to Arizona to face the Cardinals in Week 3. After the release of Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson is the undisputed starter at quarterback. Ken Whisenhunt has proven himself to be an excellent head coach in the NFL, but the Cardinals lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. The Raiders start the season at 2-1.
The Texans in Week 4 provide an interesting matchup for the Raiders. The Texans have become one of the most improved teams in the league in recent years and they're still on the rise. Matt Schaub has proven himself to be one of the league's better quarterbacks and Andre Johnson is arguably the top wide receiver. The team is hoping that the running game will have a bounce back year in 2010. This one is too close to call, but we're thinking that the Raiders will get better as the season progresses, and that this will be a valuable lesson learned. The Raiders suffer their second loss and even up at 2-2.
Week 5, the team opens division play against the Chargers in Oakland. The Chargers, like the Cardinals, have lost some firepower and it appears their window of opportunity is slowly closing. However, as much as we want to say that the Raiders will win a statement game, reality reminds us that the Chargers are still the class of the AFC West. The Raiders fall to 2-3.
The 49ers beat the Raiders in the preseason, and they matchup again in Week 6. It was a game that the Raiders could have easily won but let go in the game's late stages. The key here, as it will be throughout the season, will be the Raiders' ability to stop the run. Frank Gore is one of the better backs in the league, and the defensive front will have their work cut out to try and keep him under 100 yards. How the Raiders play in their first five games will give us a better idea of what happens in Week 6, but for right now, we'll say that Gore and the 49ers will edge out their Bay Area rivals.
If a 2-4 mark is not what you had expected at this point in the season, prepare to have your hopes lifted. We're calling the Raiders to pull off three consecutive victories against the Broncos, Seahawks and Chiefs, before going into their Week 10 bye.
After a hot start last season, the Broncos plummeted in the second half. Head Coach Josh McDaniels has quickly developed a reputation as a mad scientist of sorts, having traded away franchise players Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Furthermore, injuries have plagued the team this offseason on both sides of the ball, perhaps the biggest being the loss of push rush specialist Elvis Dumervil.
After closing the preseason against the Seahawks, the two teams square off again in this Week 8 matchup at home. Matt Hasselbeck is on the downswing of his career and is no longer one of the league's elite quarterbacks. The Seahawks will be much improved under new Head Coach Pete Carroll in 2010, but the Raiders win this one to pull even at 4-4.
The Chiefs are a team that lacks any sort of identity, so maybe that's why they've done their best impression of the New England Patriots. Thomas Jones was a nice pickup for the offense, and his power running will combine with Jamaal Charles to produce a nice 1-2 punch. Still, the Raiders seem to turn it up a notch against the Chiefs, and we're thinking much of the same here. Congratulations Raider Nation. The Raiders are 5-4 after only nine weeks.
Out of the bye week, the Raiders travel to Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. After a down year in 2009, the Steelers are looking to bounce back. After upsetting them last year with Bruce Gradkowski at the helm, we see the Steelers getting some revenge and having a good season. The Raiders fall back to .500 at 5-5.
This one is a little tough to call. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are a versatile tandem in the backfield and Chad Henne is a young and improving quarterback. You can go either way on this one, but because it's a home matchup and it's against a young signal caller, we'll call this a win for the Raiders.
After a Week 12-win to get them to 6-5 on the season, the Raiders head down south to take on the Chargers once more. At this point, the team should be much improved, but after putting up a good fight, the Chargers sweep the Raiders once more. Sorry, Raider fans. But remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.
The Jaguars were one of the worst defensive teams last season, and it's hard for any team to make such a quick turnaround. It's a road game against one of the league's premier backs in Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Raiders are picking up momentum and win this one. 7-6 after Week 14.
Against the Broncos in Week 15, and it's much of the same. At this point, it will be interesting to see if Kyle Orton is still the starting quarterback, or if Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow have taken over. Whatever the case, the Raiders sweep the Broncos in 2010 and improve to 8-6.
In Week 16, the Raiders host Peyton Manning and the Colts, and right now, it's hard to imagine them pulling out a win in this one. 8-7.
The season closes at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs. The Chiefs should be improved by season's end, but so will the Raiders. The team finishes with its best record since 2002 at 9-7.
There you have it. S&BI is calling for a 9-win season for the Raiders. The two games that were the hardest to call were the Texans and the Dolphins. The Raiders could easily win both as they could lose both. A 9-7 season doesn't guarantee a playoff spot, especially in the AFC, but gives the Raiders an excellent shot.
Perhaps we've been drinking too much of the Kool-Aid because the Raiders might just as well go 6-10. Regardless, we're looking at an improvement for the 2010 season, and a step forward for the organization.
2010 Season Preview and Prediction
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