This isn’t going to be the most fun NFL conference championship Sunday for this community.
Las Vegas Raiders fans must see the Kansas City Chiefs in yet another AFC title game ... and depending on what part of California you’re from, some Raiders’ fans must grapple with the notion of seeing a local rival — the San Francisco 49ers or Los Angeles Rams — go to the Super Bowl.
As for as the action on the field, there is just a small group of players in the two conference championship games that have suited up for the Raiders. And it all points to San Francisco’s defensive line.
The Raiders surprisingly released defensive linemen Maurice Hurst and Arden Key last offseason. They were both signed by the 49ers shortly later. Now, they are both a game away from Super Bowl LVI.
Key has been a revelation in his first season playing for the 49ers. The Raiders were extremely excited about Key, a pass-rusher from LSU, when they drafted him in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. He fell because of some character concerns, but he was considered a first-round talent. However, in his three seasons with the Raiders, Key had no public off-field issues ... his problem was a lack of productivity on the field for the Silver and Black. He had three sacks in 37 games for the Raiders and known in 2020, his final year with the team.
Yet, the light has come on in Key’s first year with the 49ers. He had 6.5 sacks in 2021, all in the final 10 games of the season and he is a key rotational player for San Francisco’s strong defensive front. He will likely have a robust free-agent market this offseason.
Hurst, a fifth-round pick in 2018, had a much better tenure with the Raiders than Key. He had a productive three seasons with the team. However, his first season with the 49ers have been marred by injuries and he’s only played in two games.
So, if a former Raider is going to make his mark this weekend, it’s probably going to be Key or no one. Cincinnati cornerback Eli Apple agreed to terms with the Raiders in 2020, but his contract was never finalized.