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  1. Winnable division, light schedule The AFC West is a very competitive division all of a sudden, as the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos took an obvious step back during the offseason. Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Evan Mathis are all gone. Kansas City, which earned a wild-card berth last season, returns a majority of its key players, but it did lose Smith, while Justin Houston will miss a chunk of 2016 due to a torn ACL and LCL. San Diego is better but still has many issues, especially on defense. Divisional games aside, Oakland has a relatively light schedule. The road slate includes trips to New Orleans, Tennessee, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. The Raiders' home games are tougher, as they will host Atlanta, Houston, Carolina and Buffalo (with a bye week mixed in) during a rare four-game homestand near midseason. PFF's Nathan Jahnke has the Raiders projected for 11 wins, which is certainly on the optimistic side, but, for the first time in a long time, that's a legitimate goal for this franchise. At the end of the day, the Raiders are solid offensively and even better on the defensive side of the ball. Most importantly, both units were upgraded and are now well positioned for a leap forward. Mack suggested Oakland's defense could be just as good as Denver's stellar unit, and he's not wrong. The personnel is in place for a breakout. The NFL is always more fun when the Raiders are competitive. Luckily for us, they will be in 2016. The Raiders are back.
  2. The Raiders are loaded in the pass-rushing department. Khalil Mack, who racked up 15 sacks last season, is one of the best players in the league. Ex-Seahawk Bruce Irvin was one of Oakland's major free agent acquisitions and is a big upgrade opposite Mack, especially following Justin Tuck's injury-shortened 2015 and offseason retirement. Irvin has yet to emerge as a major source of sacks -- he has just 22 in 58 career games -- but he was only asked to rush the passer on 43 percent of his snaps last season. Irvin expects that number to rise in Oakland. As if Mack and Irvin weren't enough, Shilique Calhoun was snagged in the third round of April's draft and adds much needed depth. Aldon Smith, who has 47.5 career sacks, is suspended until at least November, but he is only 26 years old and will added yet another top-end pass rusher when he gets back on the field. Entering the offseason, Oakland's secondary was a major concern. That's no longer the case after what can only be described as a massive overhaul. A four-year, $40-million deal was enough to steal away standout cornerback Sean Smith from Kansas City. He joins David Amerson in the starting lineup. Amerson, a second-round pick back in 2013, was a bust during two seasons in Washington, but it appears that a change in scenery was all he needed. He was terrific on his way to four interceptions as Oakland's top corner last season. PFF graded both Smith and Amerson as top-15 corners in 2015. And the overhaul does not end there. Charles Woodson, who retired, is a big loss at free safety, but his shoes will be filled by All-Pro Reggie Nelson. The 32-year-old signed a two-year deal with Oakland after snagging a league-high eight interceptions for Cincinnati last season. The Raiders' new strong safety will be this year's No. 14 overall pick Karl Joseph. The former West Virginia standout is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in October, but he is expected to be ready for training camp. Oakland's defense has several new moving parts, but nearly all are significant upgrades to a unit that already ranked in the upper half of the league in interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and tackles for loss last season. With a strong combination of young stars and proven veterans, this is a unit on the verge of joining the league's best defenses.
  3. Upgraded new-look defense The Raiders are pretty good shape offensively, but it's the improvements made on the defensive side of the ball that really move the needle for their playoff chances. The Raiders primarily use a 3-4 base, and especially with defensive Mario Edwards seemingly a full go, they have talent to lock down the trenches. Edwards, a 2015 second-round pick, was terrific on 558 rookie-season snaps (two sacks, three forced fumbles), but a genetic neck disorder put his career in jeopardy. He's now cleared and is participating in offseason programs. Defensive tackle Dan Williams is among the best run-stuffers in the league (PFF ranked him eighth among 123 qualified insider defenders last year). Denico Autry went undrafted back in 2014 but has emerged as a solid pass-rusher opposite Edwards. Rookie second-round pick Jihad Ward and third-year player Justin Ellis will be heavily involved in the rotation as well.
  4. One of the league's best O-lines Oakland has invested heavily (no pun intended) in its offensive line. It's one of the league's top units and will surely help cover up a few weak spots. Rodney Hudson became the highest-paid center in football when Oakland snagged him away from division rival Kansas City during the 2015 free agency period. He was the league's' best pass-blocking center last season -- and sixth-best overall -- according to Pro Football Focus. Donald Penn and Austin Howard return at tackle after terrific 2015 campaigns. Penn, who was a cap casualty in Tampa Bay last offseason, was a gem free agent signing by an Oakland team desperate to find protection for Carr's blind side. PFF ranked both Penn and Howard as top-15 tackles (among 77 qualified) last season. At guard, the Raiders have 2014 third-round pick Gabe Jackson (who will flip over to the right side) and newcomer Kelechi Osemele. After four seasons in Baltimore, Osemele signed a five-year, $60 million deal during the offseason. Jackson was the league's 14-best guard, and Osemele the league's second-best run-blocker at the position last season, per PFF. Landing one of the NFL's top guards was the finishing touch on creating a superb offensive line.
  5. Cooper headlines what is a top-heavy group of offensive skill position players, but this isn't a conventional offense. Crabtree, who was rejuvenated in his first season away from San Francisco, makes for a strong complement to Cooper. He wasn't nearly as dominant with the ball in his hands, but he finished 13th or better in targets, receptions and touchdowns. Last year's third-round pick, Clive Walford, meanwhile, is a candidate for a second-year leap at tight end. The ex-Miami Hurricane was promoted near midseason and averaged five targets per game after Week 12. Walford is a big (6-foot-4, 251 pounds), versatile playmaker who is a good bet to slot in third on the target totem pole. Otherwise, the offense will be relying on a lengthy list of players, each, as Liam Neeson would explain, with "a particular set of skills." Marcel Reece (250 pounds) and Jamize Olawale (240) are listed as fullbacks, but both line up all over the offensive formation and help out in the rushing and receiving game. Rookie Deandre Washington, whose 6.4 YPC last season was highest among drafted running backs, joins Latavius Murray, Roy Helu and Taiwan Jones in the backfield. At tight end, Mychal Rivera will play second fiddle to Walford in the receiving game, and blocking whiz Lee Smith is an extension of the offensive line. This is a solid group, and it only helps that each skill-position player who was on the field for at least 10 snaps last season is still on the roster. That's a good sign considering this is a unit that averaged 2.6 touchdowns per game (ninth-most) last year.
  6. The Oakland Raiders are good again. Yes, the Raiders, who haven't had a winning record since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002. The same Raiders who have gone through nine coaches during that span and went 7-9 and last season to finish in the bottom half of the league in both total offense and total defense. That same franchise will contend for a Super Bowl title in 2016. It has been a miserable decade for Oakland fans, with a possible relocation (Las Vegas?) only making things worse. But for a variety of reasons, there is hope in the short term. Here's why: Talent at the skill positions Let's start with the most important piece of the puzzle: quarterback. Two years into his career, the jury remains out on Derek Carr. He completed 58 percent of his passes while averaging 5.5 yards per attempt as a rookie. But Carr supporters were quick to point to the fact that he was a second-round pick asked to deliver 599 pass attempts to one of the league's worst receiving corps. Last season showed that there was merit to that theory. With Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree added to the Raiders' arsenal, Carr's completion percentage (61 percent) and his yards per attempt (7.0) increased. That's a good sign, but he still finished below league average in both categories, which suggests there's room for even more improvement in 2016. Helping Carr's cause will be the fact that his supporting cast should be better this season. Cooper struggled with drops as a rookie -- his 10 trailed only Mike Evans' 11 for most in the league -- but he more than made up for it with terrific post-catch production (5.4 RAC). The fourth overall pick handled 125 targets (No. 21 overall among wide receivers) and eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards despite playing through a foot injury down the stretch. Not bad for a 21-year-old. Cooper is a terrific route runner and playmaker, and he is a near-lock for a step forward in his second year.
  9. I'll be out of wars for awhile, will return rejuvenated when I get back from Mexico.
  10. Everything is fine.
  11. I think it's going to be RB.
  12. It's possible, but Reggie doesn't strike me as a guy who gets too worked up in the moment. His plan from day one was slow and methodical, and we really haven't seen anything byut that since.
  13. They didn't hesitate on the clock either; he was clearly the target.
  14. This also makes me a little more concerned about the long term status of Mario Edwards...
  15. Reggie is going out on a limb, but he has earned that right. He get's dialed in on what he calls "country strong"; I'm guessing this is in that same vein. It worked out great with Gabe Jackson. I honestly don't know anything about this kid, but 15 seconds of film and he looks like a cave troll.