Five things that have to happen

The Raiders may have a new head coach, a new offense, a new quarterback and a new line blocking scheme. But as far as Las Vegas is concerned, Al Davis and his team are essentially still the same team that finished with the NFL's worst record a year ago.

That's why most sports books in the gambling mecca have pegged Oakland as the league's biggest longshot to win the Super Bowl this year. Exactly two weeks before the first game of the regular season, the odds of the Raiders capturing the NFL championship stood at 150-1.

More telling was the over-under for wins by the Raiders: five, according to most books.

We're slightly more optimistic at, though we won't get into projecting wins and losses. However, here are five things to look forward to during the upcoming season:

* Daunte Culpepper finds Moss-like connection with Jerry Porter: The big quarterback will spread the ball around a lot early in the season but he'll find an especially nice groove with Porter, who is ready for a breakout year. Porter won't stretch the field as well as Culpepper's former favorite target, Randy Moss, but he can do more things over the middle and is more versatile than Moss and thus will be just as effective.

* Dominic Rhodes will lead the team in rushing: Despite being suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season as a result of his offseason DUI, Rhodes will come back to be the workhorse in the backfield and will finish as the sixth different back in six years to lead the Raiders in rushing yards. A healthy LaMont Jordan could change that but he's already been slowed by a sore lower back that will likely linger into the season.

* Raiders will end their AFC West curse: Oakland has lost 14 straight games within its own division and is just 2-22 since 2002 but the jinx won't continue. San Diego might be the NFL's most talented team but each time they play the Raiders, it's a week after playing Denver. A Week 2 game against the Broncos offers an early shot at an upset there, while Kansas City isn't nearly the team it once was. Here's to two, maybe even three wins in the West for Oakland.

* Burgess and Sapp, Hawaii-bound: One of the best inside-out combinations in the NFL, Derrick Burgess and Warren Sapp feed off of each other's production on the field and will be just as dominant in 2007 as they were in ‘06. Sapp, in particular, figures to be a force because he's in better shape and is motivated by being left off the AFC Pro Bowl roster last year. That won't happen this time, as Sapp will get a first-class ticket to the Pro Bowl along with his pal, Burgess.

* JaMarcus Russell will play: Believe it or not, the No. 1 draft pick will find his way onto the field in an actual game that counts. Yes, he has to sign a contract first but that will come, and when it does, the pressure will begin to mount to get him in a game. It won't be early because the rookie has a lot of catching up to do, and if the Raiders are winning, Russell's debut will be delayed longer. But if the team struggles out of the game, expect the rookie to at least get a look late in the year.

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