By nearly running the table on the AFC West the second time around, that San Diego 4th down gamble still haunts me (I am in therapy and should be over it by Week 1), the Raiders have put the AFC West back on notice that this team is not the softy cones that laid down under Shell and Turner.
By shellacking the Broncos at the Coliseum and punching the Chiefs in the mouth in Kansas City, a three and a half year reign as the laughing stocks of the AFC West and a one year reign as the joke of the NFL was laid to rest. (Actually, until another team goes out and scores a mere 12 offensive TDs and surrenders 72 sacks, the 2006 team will still wear the crown for the worst team in 25 years...Even the 1-15 Dolphins scored 26 TD and allowed 42 sacks in 2007)
For the first time in three seasons I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that the Raiders will NOT be in the cellar in 2008.
Here is a look at where I see the West stacking up:
San Diego: When healthy they are as talented as ANY team in the NFL. In 2008, barring major injuries on BOTH sides of the ball, they should have a cakewalk BACK to the AFC West throne.
Denver: Their rush defense was just about as bad as ours last season, 4.6 yards a carry, and, even after adding Dre Bly,they gave up 25.6 points a game.
Their pass defense allowed a higher completion percentage than the Raiders and ONLY gathered 14 interceptions.
That is not quite the output that they'd hoped for when the traded to get Bly to team up with Bailey.
It also looks like Lynch may be hanging it up, but, even if he doesn't retire he will be one more year declined.
I'm not quite sure how far Denver will decline, but, there is no doubting that they are in a decline.
Their record has declined from 13-3 in 2005, to 9-7 in 2006 and now, they were fortunate to even finish at 7-9 this season. They are 9-12 since firing Jake Plummer and will need to fill as many holes as the Raiders in order to stay at 2nd in the Division.
I see the Raiders and Broncos fighting for 2nd in the Division.
Kansas City: This is a team that needs an infusion of young talent BADLY.
Ty Law AND Donnie Edwards are both 34 and on the downslope of fantastic careers.
Eddie Kennison is 35 and should be retiring soon, which leaves them with Dwayne Bowe and the 31 year old Tony Gonzalez as Brodie Croyle's go to guys.
They will probably draft Jake Long in the first round because their line gave up 55 sacks in 2007, which is the WORST in the League.
Croyle has never impressed me and Damon Huard is 34 and hasn't ever done much in this League.
I have to say that, at this point, they are the LARGE favorite to be in the cellar when 2008 ends.
I am excited to finally shed the "L" that all of us Raider fans have had tattooed to our foreheads whenever we talk to fans of other AFC West teams.
By this time next year, we can be talking to Donkey and Squaw fans about keeping the cellar warm for us as the young nucleus on this team continues to gel and win ballgames.
Of Course Free Agency and the Draft will shake things up, so I will revisit this again after the draft, but, for now, in the words of the incredibly fallible, Brian McNamee, this "is what it IS".