The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. We’ve now cracked the top five! The season is almost here. At No. 5 on our preseason rankings are the chic Oakland Raiders.
2016 in a nutshell: For the first time in over a decade, the Raiders are good. Young quarterback Derek Carr became a superstar and an MVP candidate, the offensive line and the receiving corps flourished and the defense treaded water thanks to tremendous performances from defensive player of the year Khalil Mack and his sidekick, Bruce Irvin.
What’s different: The Raiders gave Carr another weapon in talented veteran tight end Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch has come out of retirement to replace Latavius Murray as the top name in the offensive backfield.
Why they could be awesome: Carr should only get better, as should top receiver Amari Cooper. Mack and Irvin should be just as studly as they were last season and that D has plenty of young talent that could emerge.
Why they could suck: There are still questions surrounding the running game as well as the depth on defense. They ranked 26th in the league defensively last year and don’t look markedly better right now. The secondary in particular remains a question mark.
Major additions: Cook, Lynch, offensive weapon Cordarrelle Patterson and solid veteran linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
Major losses: Murray, as well as mediocre defenders Stacy McGee and Malcolm Smith.
Breakout watch: If the secondary is going to become an asset rather than a liability, they’ll need a big second season at safety from 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph. The ball-bawk out of West Virginia had just one pick while struggling outside of coverage as a rookie.
Position to watch: Kudos to them for not paying Murray, who wasn’t very effective the last couple seasons and had become more of a platoon back. Plus, I have really high hopes for both Jalen Richard (5.9 yards per carry in 2016) and DeAndre Washington (5.4 yards per carry last season). The 31-year-old Lynch is a mystery, considering that he didn’t play football last year, and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in seven games in 2015, so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out among that trio.
Prediction: This team should be better than the one that won 12 games (and might have won 13 had they not lost Carr in Week 16) last year. I’m expecting them to win their first division title since 2002, but they aren’t ready to slay Goliath in the AFC. They’ll probably lose the conference title game to New England.
12-4, 1st place in the AFC West