Oakland Raiders: Experts Pick Team Likeliest To Topple Broncos In AFC West


Given the lack of success the Oakland Raiders have had for the last decade or so, it’s not too surprising that not a lot of people are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to projecting future success.

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You would think though, that with back to back drafts that have knocked it out of the park, and a third (2013) that produced some players who will be big factors this season, they’d get a little more respect than they seem to be getting in the national media.

But, in the world of professional sports, it all comes down to winning. That’s all that matters and that’s something the Raiders have done far too little of for quite some time.

However, Oakland has a roster that is suddenly brimming with talent, playmakers up and down the board, and players like Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, among others, who appear poised to be legit stars in this league. And this offseason – unlike past offseasons – they got free agency right and added a number of high impact free agents like Curtis Lofton and Dan Williams who immediately make the team better.

And of course, hiring Jack Del Rio has to be viewed as one of the best moves of the entire offseason. Del Rio is the sort of leader the Raiders need – and have lacked – for quite some time. And he’s brought a staff with him that is among the most experienced in the league, and one that is really resonating with the players.

Given the moves this team has made this offseason – along with the possibility that the AFC West won’t be as strong in 2015 as it has been in the past – the Raiders should be considered a dark horse candidate to be a serious threat in the division.

But don’t tell the writers over at ESPN that. The writers at ESPN, Raiders beat writer Bill Williamson in particular, are picking the San Diego Chargers as the team likeliest to dethrone the Denver Broncos.

Now, some things are going to have to break right for the Raiders – or anybody really – and some things will have to go wrong for Denver to lose the strangehold they’ve had on the division for the last four seasons. But with Peyton Manning in the twilight of his career and beginning to slip a bit, along with an offseason that’s included some upheaval the Broncos have not experienced in a while, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that we see a drop off in the Mile High City, and a new division champ crowned.

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The Chargers are, of course, the safe bet to supplant the Broncos. They have a star in QB Philip Rivers and a possible budding star in Melvin Gordon. They have some good receivers in Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd and some nice pieces on defense like Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.

And yet, despite having all of that talent, they’ve been very average, hovering around .500 and having one playoff appearance in the last five seasons.

Said Williamson:

"“This program has been coming together in recent years. Rivers is still in his prime. Gordon will make the offense more varied and dangerous and I like the Chargers’ top pieces on defense. I don’t know whether San Diego will be a Super Bowl contender, but I see it taking advantage of a Denver dip.”"

Of course, those remarks were made prior to Antonio Gates‘ four game ban for doping, so one has to wonder if that would change his thinking any.

Rivers though, while in his prime last season, threw for more than 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns. However, he also threw 18 interceptions and added eight fumbles in leading the Chargers to a 9-7, non-playoff mark.

Rivers is going to have basically, the same cast of characters to work with in 2015, though they did lose Ryan Matthews to free agency, and added Steve Johnson – though Johnson hasn’t been very good since 2012, when he posted his third straight (and last) 1,000 yard season. Johnson’s impact on San Diego’s offense will likely be minimal.

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  • Jeremy Maclin is Kansas City’s biggest offseason upgrade, though he alone can’t make up for their other big personnel losses. And Alex Smith has yet to prove that he’s as good as he seemed to be in San Francisco – well, before being supplanted by Colin Kaepernick as the starting QB. While Smith may complete a touchdown to a wide receiver this year, the Chiefs simply do not have enough in the tank to make a serious run at the title in 2015.

    Which brings us to the Raiders. Arguably, Oakland improved far more than any other team in the division. With their free agent adds, new coaching staff, and yet another solid draft which yielded the likes of Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, the Raiders have a ton of terrific pieces in place. With acquisitions like Michael Crabtree and Roy Helu, and the emergence of Latavius Murray, the Raiders will have a very different looking – and very potent – offense. On the defensive side of the ball, they have an exceedingly young secondary, but their deficiencies may very well be masked by what looks like it could be a dominant front seven.

    Until they’re knocked off the throne and have the crown physically ripped away from them, the Denver Broncos still reign supreme in the AFC West. But with a new offensive system under new HC Gary Kubiak that will feature the run heavily, Denver’s offense will be missing some of the lightning quick scoring punch it’s had in the past. Manning will not be airing it out 50 times a game like he did under John Fox, and the offense will be a more grinding, clock chewing unit – much to the chagrin of Denver’s receivers and probably Manning himself.

    Although Denver still currently rules the AFC West, the fight for the division crown is actually a little more wide open than people think. And unlike Bill Williamson and some of the writers at ESPN, the Raiders, and not the Chargers, would seem to have the better shot at unseating them. They just seem to have more going for them at the moment in terms of potential.

    Yes, it will come down to play on the field and whether or not the Raiders can actually fulfill that potential. It will come down to those foundational pieces on the squad, the players like Carr, Cooper, and Mack, being able to take that next step in their maturing process and be leaders on this team, and help guide the Raiders out of the cellar they’ve called home for far too long.

    Should Denver slip in 2015 – as many of us expect them to – the Raiders seem to be in a better position to pounce than the Chargers. Bill Williamson and his predictions be damned.

    Next: Oakland Raiders vs. AFC West: Quarterbacks