Aug. 17, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver (12) Jacoby Ford is tackled in the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Fact or Fiction: The Oakland Raiders Will Contend in the AFC West

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In 2011, the Oakland Raiders almost won the AFC West. In 2012, they were nine games behind the Denver Broncos.

Oakland didn’t contend at all in 2012, as it won a mere four games. The Raiders managed to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they were 1-12 against teams with more than two wins. In addition, the Raiders lost seven games to teams with losing records, while the Broncos, Ravens and Bengals, all playoff teams, demolished the Raiders.

Carson Palmer quarterbacked the 2012 Raider team, and he racked up a solid number of passing yards (4,018 in about 14 games). However, he was extremely turnover-prone, and because of that the Raiders shipped him off to Arizona. Palmer threw 20 interceptions in 2007 and 2010 and was intercepted 30 times in 25 games with the Raiders.

Matt Flynn will be Oakland’s 2013 quarterback. Flynn has thrown nine touchdowns in 141 career NFL passes, and he threw six touchdowns in a single game during the 2011-12 season. Flynn is an explosive quarterback who can get a ball in a tight window, but he is also turnover-prone.

As Raiders fans know from Palmer going 8-17 as a Raider, turnovers aren’t good. Flynn has five interceptions in 141 NFL throws, which is one interception every 28.2 throws. Because the NFL is becoming more of a passing league, Flynn will likely throw more than 28 times per game often. So, he’s going to get intercepted a lot.

It doesn’t help that Flynn, who was also intercepted 11 times in his final season at LSU, doesn’t have tons of help around him on offense. If Darren McFadden gets hurt again, defenses will be able to key in on Flynn, which won’t be good for Flynn and the offense. He doesn’t have a great group of wide receivers, as there are lots of question marks surrounding Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford and late-round draft picks can’t be counted on to perform like stars.

Having someone like Calvin Johnson would allow Flynn to take chances (which he does often) and not pay for it. He’s not going to get bailed out on those kinds of throws by the drop-prone Moore, and a lot of his passes will be intercepted. Ford can get separation, but he is recovering from a Lisfranc injury and needs to stay on the field.

The Raiders have lots of question marks when it comes to the offense, and they could definitely end up with one of the worst offenses in the league. The Raiders don’t have a proven option at quarterback, wide receiver or tight end, and McFadden has had no luck staying healthy throughout his career. It’s likely that receivers fail to gain separation, McFadden gets hurt and Flynn forces passes.

And that’s definitely not a formula for offensive success.

Oakland’s defense, on the other hand, wasn’t bad, as it ranked 18th in the NFL. The Raiders added D.J. Hayden, who intercepted three passes in his last three college games, in the first round to add speed and depth to the secondary. Hayden intercepted four passes in 2012 and will be a valuable addition to the secondary, even if the secondary wasn’t a giant need for the Raiders.

The Raiders waited until the third round to add a pass-rusher, which was surprising considering that the Raiders registered a meager 25 sacks in 2012 (which was second-worst in the NFL). Sharrif Floyd, Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei, all stellar defensive tackles, were on the board for the Raiders, but Oakland shied away from those players.

Luckily for Oakland, Sio Moore was available for them with the 66th pick, and Oakland used its third-round pick on Moore. Moore finished 2012 with eight sacks, which isn’t spectacular but is good. Moore is versatile and can help the defensive line, which was Oakland’s biggest need.

The defense is already fine, but Oakland definitely could have gone for a pass-rusher earlier. Hayden missed time with a life-threatening injury to his vena cava, the vein that takes blood directly to the heart. Hayden appears to fine, but it’s still hard to expect someone who suffered an injury with a 95 percent fatality rate to start in Week 1 less than two years later.

Oakland’s draft was decent, but it could have targeted pass-rushers and wide receivers. The Raiders will pay for not taking a tight end or wide receiver until the sixth round, and it will take Flynn a long time to get settled in as a full-time starter. He had his breakout game with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings making plays, and he’s not going to be able to get used to that luxury in Oakland.

Denver, San Diego and Kansas City will present challenges and obstacles for Oakland, and it’s very unlikely that the Raiders win the division. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are extremely talented and well-rounded, and Oakland has obvious flaws. The Chiefs and Chargers are beatable, but both made noticeable improvements over the offseason.

The Raiders will win games and will likely make big improvements. It’s realistic to expect the Raiders to take the right steps towards future success in 2013, but Raiders fans will have to wait for their team to actually achieve success. There are too many question marks on offense, and Oakland’s average defense has holes as well.

The Raiders may make some games interesting against good teams, and they won’t be pushed over. But unless they consistently play good football and almost everyone exceeds expectations, the Raiders aren’t going to contend.

Fact or Fiction: The Oakland Raiders Will Contend in the AFC West

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