It's been an eventful offseason for the Oakland Raiders featuring everything from relocation talk to big-time free agent signings, and it's all led up to Sunday's regular-season opener against the New Orleans Saints.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders front office spent much of the offseason rebuilding their secondary and defense with additions like linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith and safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph.
The rebuilt secondary will get it's first test on Sunday, and it's not an easy one as they take on veteran and Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and his potent offense. Brees led the league last year with 4,870 passing yards last season, which was the seventh time he has surpassed the 4,500 yard barrier in a season.
Third-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks is his top target after notching his first-career 1,000-yard season last year. Cooks is a tall receiver with solid speed that could provide a tough matchup for the Raiders secondary. Opposite of him is Willie Snead, who had a breakout year last season and the Raiders must keep an eye on him and not let him break free past the defense.
Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. will also have to find a way to contain Saints running back Mark Ingram. Ingram racked up 769 rushing yards and six touchdowns last year, while also proving to be a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield by hauling in 50 receptions for 405 yards.
Raiders starting middle linebacker Ben Heeney will have his hands full making sure he can keep an eye on Ingram while also calling the appropriate defenses. It will be important for Heeney and the Raiders defense to wrap up the Saints playmakers and not let them get extra yardage after contact.
Defensive end Khalil Mack has an added weapon to his pass-rushing attack: linebacker Bruce Irvin. Having someone opposite of Mack should prove beneficial as the Saints offensive line will have to focus on both of the speedy pass rushers if they want to keep Brees off his back. Applying pressure to the veteran quarterback will help the secondary greatly.
On offense, the Raiders return their young core of quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back Latavius Murray. Now they'll be facing a familiar face for some, as former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is now the Saints defensive coordinator.
Allen takes over a struggling defense that finished 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (129.8), passing yards per game (284.0) and total yards per game (413.8).
Murray, who had his first 1,000-yard season last year, should be able to find some running room against the Saints defense. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should also try and find a way to incorporate fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington into the offense and use his speed and pass-catching abilities to throw off the Saints defense.
The Raiders added to their offensive line by signing guard Kelechi Osemele and by getting right tackle Menelik Watson back from injury. They'll have to stop premier pass rusher defensive end Cameron Jordan who had 10 sacks last season. He'll be accompanied by newcomers DT Nick Fairley and defensive end Paul Kruger, who recently signed with the team.
Second-year wide receiver Amari Cooper will look to build on a Pro Bowl rookie season in which he became the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Randy Moss in 2005. Cooper has grown great chemistry with Carr and will be going up a secondary that struggled against the pass last year.
Carr will have to keep an eye on cornerback Delvin Breaux and former first-round pick safety Kenny Vacarro. Breaux led the team with three interceptions last year, while Vacarro tallied 136 tackles.
Sunday will mark the first time the team has opened up on the road against an NFC opponent since 1999. The team will then return home to take on the Atlanta Falcons in their home opener in week two at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.