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How the Raiders can win the West in 2011

If there were no laws, Al Davis’ Oakland Raiders would still be outlaws. The 2011 version should be improved from the 2010 version in various ways including coaches, talent, and the number of fans in attendance for home games. The preseason schedule was released today and it is favorable – in terms of traveling, there will be hardly any at all, giving the Raiders virtual scrimmages to start the season off on the right foot. If one didn’t know better, one could say that the NFL is ready for the Raiders to reclaim their rightful place in the ranks of the AFC. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Raiders have to do to win the AFC West and ruin the day of anyone not lucky enough to be one of them in 2011.

Division Sweep

Yeah, I hardly think so. They were fortunate enough to do it in 2010, but their three main rivals will be shooting the kill shot with every snap to avoid this atrocity in back to back seasons. However, the Donkeys hardly stand a chance, as their whole world was turned upside down thanks to former Head Coach Josh McDaniels, who effectively destroyed everything that was built by Mike Shanahan. At the very least the Raiders should sweep Denver in 2010.

Kansas City may have won the division, but it was only by way of help from the Raiders falling on their faces in games outside of the division. As cornerback Stanford Routt likes to point out, the Raiders were only a few plays away from 11-5 one year ago. The plays that come to my mind:

  1. Louis Murphy drops the 4th down pass late in the game versus the Texans in week 4 at home stalling a drive that would’ve forced overtime.
  2. Sebastian Janikowski misses a game winning field goal that would’ve sealed the deal against Arizona. He missed three that day, so take your pick.
  3. Raiders’ defense stalls Jacksonville ground game until back-up running back Rashard Jennings goes for 74 on one game changing run. Let’s also toss in the Jacoby Ford fumble on the ensuing kickoff following that run.

Without these three-four Raiders plays, Kansas City would’ve been sitting on their couches watching the Raiders actually teach them how to play football against the Baltimore Ravens the next week. I wonder what Hue Jackson would’ve cooked up for his former team.

The San Diego Chargers are falling rapidly. The Norv Turner era in SD has officially begun. In a few months, Chargeless fans will be wondering – yet again – why they let Marty go after a 14-2 regular season. I can’t see the Raiders sweeping the division next year, regardless of the sad state it is in, but if they can go 4-2 then they have a good shot at taking the divisional title. That also entails them winning at least six games outside of the division, which proved to be a taller task than they could manage last year. Luckily for them, some of their toughest opponents in 2011 will be in games played at the Coliseum.

Referees Need Glasses

It’s said the best teams in the league overcome penalties called by the zebras and win games regardless of how many calls go against them. But I can’t think of any other team in the league that gets the “make the rules up as we go” treatment like the Raiders. Two that come to mind right off the top of my head are the “Tuck Rule” and the “Possession all the way through the catch in the end zone Rule.”

The first game against Kansas City last year was one of the worst officiating jobs I’ve seen in my life. Unless my hunch is correct and the NFL is actually ready for the Raiders to resume their rightful rank atop the AFC, the Raiders are going to have to overcome the “Wrath of the Zebras” ™ in 2011. Perhaps I am wrong and the referees do not need glasses, because only then would they be able to see more things that did not happen and make worse calls. I hereby declare that the referees need to put on blinders in 2011.

Coming Together

Not too long ago, whenever you visited the Raiders’ website, there was an introduction voiceover in which Nnamdi Asomugha said, “The leadership puzzle is in place.”

I believe he was referring to the Tom Cable era in his assessment, but the most important thing that has to happen post-Tom Cable is that the players who were there and went through that transformation with the team are going to have to keep doing what they have been doing regardless of who the coaches are. Not to undermine the Hue Jackson staff – which may be better – but football is a team sport and the coaches don’t get to play. In most cases they used to play, but the leadership on the field has to come from guys like Nnamdi, Richard Seymour, and Jason Campbell – all of whom are solid veteran leadership.

The leadership roles that the veterans on this squad take are going to be vital to making the 2011 campaign the one that gets the Raiders back to where they belong, in the final six AFC teams in January. One of the things I would like to see them do is take advantage of the opportunity to come together right now. Granted they can’t get together with the coaches and go through the typical motions of this part of the year, but the team still should be getting together and working out with each other as a team. That’s what Keith Brooking and the veteran leadership of the Dallas Cowboys have taken the initiative to do. Coming together right now, in spite of the lockout, could play be a key to developing the roles of the different personalities on this team.  

The NFL odds may not have Oakland as the favorite, but smart NFL handicappers will look for value in quality teams like the Raiders.