Today's absurd prediction:
Despite having a top 5 defense, the Raiders finish with the worst record in the conference.
You know, they say defense wins championships, which is all well and good. But if you're all defense and no offense, you'll have a hard time making the playoffs. If my predictions miraculously pan out, the best team in the league will have one of the five worst defenses (Indianapolis, from a few days ago), and a team with a top 5 defense will be tied with Minnesota for the worst team in the league. Interestingly, the Vikes and Raiders play each other, so the winner of that game will lose the #1 draft pick. I'm thinking Oakland takes the win, thus avoiding being the first team since Cleveland in 1999-2000 to draft first in consecutive years.
Here's the breakdown for the Oakland Raiders:
Coaching Changes: F
Al Davis botched this one good. There was one person who actually wanted the Raiders coaching job and was available, experienced, and qualified for it. His crafty defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. Davis instead set his sights on USC assistant Steve Sarkisian, who had served as quarterbacks coach for Oakland in 2004. He got Sarkisian to all but sign on the dotted line, but suddenly Sarkisian announced that he didn't want the job anymore. And who can blame him? Art Shell was given only one year to succeed. Norv Turner only got two, as did Bill Callahan. Granted, every one of them is widely regarded as a bad NFL head coach, but the fact remains that Davis has a terrible track record with coaches in the past six years. Taking that head coaching job would most likely do more harm than good. So anyway, now that Sarkisian was out of the picture, the door should have been open for Ryan to get the job like he should have. But no! As if Sarkisian wasn't inexperienced enough (1 year NFL experience, perhaps too young at 32, no head coaching experience), Davis hired Lane Kiffin, who has NO NFL experience, also no head coaching experience, and is EVEN YOUNGER at 31! To Kiffin's credit, he is saying and doing all the right things in Oakland, and might have what it takes to turn the team around. But even if he has it, will Davis retain him long enough to let him use it? Then there's the question of what happens with Ryan. Will he and Kiffin get along? Will he bolt for a head coaching job next offseason? Oh, also they have a new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, formerly of the Falcons. So maybe they'll do better running.
Good for them, they drafted who they were supposed to draft. They got their franchise QB, who hopefully will be surrounded by the right coaches and players to give him a fair chance to succeed. They had seven picks in rounds 3-5 and a total of 11 overall to give them a nice crop of rookies. 4th-round RB Michael Bush, who would have been at least a 2nd-rounder until he broke his leg, should start at RB in a few years, giving Oakland a huge, hard-to-tackle backfield for a long time to come. Russell and Bush combined? 515 lbs. Also notable are TE Zach Miller, who should give Russell a nice bail-out target, DE Quentin Moses who is immensely talented but underachieved last year and in workouts, and raw but gifted T Mario Henderson. They made a few gamble picks; WR Johnnie Lee Higgins isn't very strong and only weighs 180, and CB John Bowie has been riddled with injuries. But having 11 selections affords you some gamble picks. All in all, it was a pretty nice haul, with no real steals, but a nice batch of potential role players who may become starters.
Player Movement: B+
They are rid of Randy Moss, and have just acquired Daunte Culpepper. I'm actually a bit sad about the Culpepper move, because it means Josh McCown won't start. McCown is one of the backup QBs who I really want to see get a decent chance somewhere. If you're interested, the others include Sage Rosenfels and Billy Volek. But Culpepper makes sense, since he's a staring-caliber QB who's built like Russell, which means the offense won't have to adjust to a new plan when Russell takes over. It also means we can finally close the books on Andrew Walter. Also acquired: freshly ringed RB Dominic Rhodes, who promptly proceeded to get himself suspended for four games. FB Justin Griffith follows Knapp from Atlanta, WR Mike Williams attempts to start anew after failing miserably in Detroit, S Donovin Darius gives some veteran leadership to the secondary, and C Jeremy Newberry strengthens the offensive line. One of the most interesting acquisitions from a trivia standpoint is WR Travis Taylor, who for the second time in his career is replacing Moss and will have Culpepper throwing him the ball. The nicest thing is that they haven't lost anyone important other than Moss, who practically didn't play for them last year (he should be able to catch 42 passes for 553 yards without even showing up). They may miss Langston Walker on the line, but they were smart not to match the Bills' ridiculously high offer.
This is the AFC's easiest schedule by a very small margin. They get the NFC North, where they may actually be able to pull two wins. They draw Miami and Cleveland, two rather inept offenses that the Raiders might be able to shut out. And they also get the AFC South, which means Houston and Tennessee. The thing is, all these teams are also looking forward to the Oakland game for an easy win. The schedule is a little imbalanced - Detroit, Cleveland, and Miami are in the first four weeks and they close against Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and San Diego. But they can be certain that if they start this season 0-4, they might as well put in Russell because if they can't beat the early teams, the season won't get any better.
What's really surprising to me, as I glance over the Raiders' depth chart, is how many names on offense have been there since 2003, when I used to play as Oakland all the time on Madden 04. Ronald Curry, Alvis Whitted, Zack Crockett, Justin Fargas - even Doug Gabriel is back after being traded to New England last season. And then there's Jerry Porter, who hasn't found his way out of town yet. These guys have been the Raiders' role players since that first disappointing season, and despite all the turmoil are still around. That says something, though I'm not sure what. And Jerry Porter could almost count as an acquisition this year, since he held out last season and only played 4 games and caught 1 pass. Also, there's the possibility of a Daunte Culpepper revenge tour: He plays Miami in week 4, the team that gave up on him but didn't let him find a new job for a while. He plays Minnesota in week 11, his old team for whom he has no good feelings. If he's still starting at that point, he plays Jacksonville in week 16, the team who looked like it might reunite him with old coach Mike Tice, but signed Tim Couch of all people instead.
The Record: 3-13
There are things that could come together and help Oakland pull off a respectable improvement, but with Kiffin's inexperience and all the Raiders' other issues, plus the difficulty of competing in the AFC, I just don't see it happening this year.