The Oakland Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002, and the team is coming off a 4-12 season. Last season was a major disappointment in Oakland since the team was coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Carson Palmer is now out, and Matt Flynn is likely in as the team’s new starting quarterback. It’s year 2 of the Dennis Allen era as head coach, and the Raiders are hoping 2013 gets the team moving back in the right direction.
Matt Flynn is the perfect example of what one great game in the NFL can do. In the Green Bay Packers’ 2011 season finale, Flynn threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns in a thrilling 45-41 win over the Lions. He had a 136.4 passer rating and his stock became very high, so high that the Seattle Seahawks gave Flynn a 3-year, $26 million dollar contract only to see him lose the starting quarterback job to Russell Wilson. Flynn threw just 9 passes in 2012 and was traded from the Seahawks to the Raiders for a 5th round and a conditional round draft pick.
Flynn has been highly scrutinized for having one of the weakest arms in the league, and Raiders coaches reportedly are concerned about his ability to have success throwing the ball more than 25 yards. That’s a problem. And it’s not like Flynn has so many weapons to throw to. Oakland’s number 1 receiver is 2011 5th round pick Denarius Moore, and the number 2 receiver is, you guessed it, Rod Streater, who went undrafted in the 2012 draft. Richard Gordon is the favorite to win the starting tight end job, and is more of a blocker than a receiver with 3 career receptions.
The offensive line was looking like it an up and coming unit, but left tackle Jared Veldheer just tore his triceps and will miss at least the first 8 games, if not the season. Alex Barron will replace Veldheer, and Barron hasn’t played in the league since 2010. What was looking like a strength is now a question mark for Oakland.
Darren McFadden is the team’s starting running back, yet has never played more than 13 games in a season. Last season was a down year for the 25-year-old. McFadden averaged 3.3 yards per carry, scoring just 3 times. He’s without a doubt the best player on offense, and if the Raiders have any plans on making some noise this season, McFadden needs to carry the load. But considering the Raiders’ receiving core is one of the worst in the league and Matt Flynn can’t stretch the defense, opposing defenses will stack the box. It appears the Raiders offense will suffer tremendously this season. Maybe even Terrelle Pryor will get a shot to show what he’s got… maybe.
The Raiders were a little worse than a middle of the pack defense in 2012 ranking 20th giving up 235 pass yards per game, and ranking 18th giving up 118 rush yards per game. The secondary looks to be the strength of the defense with Charles Woodson back for a home-coming at safety. Tracey Porter and Mike Jenkins are both on one-year contract with plenty to prove. The Raiders also selected DJ Hayden in the first round. Hayden has incredible talent, but is coming off a near life-threatening injury in college. He was just cleared for contact and it’s unclear what kind of impact Hayden will have in 2013. The pass rush recorded only 25 sacks last season, and the Raiders didn’t do much to improve that area in the off-season. There’s no star on the Raiders D-line, but Lamarr Houston has a ton of upside and is poised to have a breakout year.
But no matter how effective the Raiders defense is, the offense is going to have to give the D a break by putting together long drives.
Special Teams always seems to be the strengths of the Oakland Raiders, but with longtime punter Shane Lechler signing with Houston, and Jacoby Ford coming off two major foot injuries that forced him to miss the last season and a half, the Raiders punting and returning situations are as unstable as they’ve been in years. Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and 2nd year punter Marquette King are vying for the starting punting job, and both are no Lechler. As for the return game, Oakland signed long time Cleveland Brown Josh Cribbs in the off-season, but he only has 1 return touchdown in the past 3 seasons after having 4 in 2009. Behind Cribbs is Jacoby Ford who hasn’t played since the middle of the 2011 season and is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, which means he is no guarantee to still have his blazing speed. Sebastian Janikowski who has the strongest leg in the league is still here after signing a 4-year contract extension in the off-season. Janikowski consistently kicks the ball through the end-zone on kickoffs.
Dennis Allen is in a tough spot as the head man in Oakland. The roster isn’t great, and the AFC West is a solid division. What needs to happen for Allen this season is his players show they like playing for him, give it all they got on Sunday afternoons. The Raiders won’t be winning a lot of games this season, but Allen’s job can be saved if his team simply plays the game hard. Greg Olson is the new offensive coordinator and has been called a “mad scientist” with his array of creative plays. The Raiders need to be as unpredictable as any team offensively due to a lack of star talent on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Jason Traver is back as the defensive coordinator and Oakland is returning just 3 starters from last year’s unit. Traver has his work cut out for him.
X-FACTOR: DARREN MCFADDEN
If the Raiders are going to be respectable this year, Darren McFadden is going to have to be the guy in Oakland. He’s far and away the most talented player on the team and is only 25. With a suspect passing attack, it will be up to McFadden to extend drives and be a major playmaker offensively. He has to make it through all 16 games for the first time in his career and he can’t average 3.3 yards per carry. As much as defenses will be gunning for him, the Raiders success in 2013 hinges on the play of Darren McFadden.
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like things will be getting much better for the Raiders in 2013. The Broncos are perennial Super Bowl favorites, Norv Turner is out as coach of the Chargers (anyone is better than Turner), and the Chiefs brought in Alex Smith to solidify the quarterback position.
3-13 (LAST IN AFC WEST)