The Oakland Raiders play in one of the toughest divisions in football. Here are five reasons it will be the Silver and Black that wins the AFC West in 2017. The regular season is only a handful of days away. 2017 looks to be a great year for the Silver and Black, as the Oakland Raiders can go as far as they want to this season. Last year, didn’t end the way Oakland wanted. The Raiders will want to do everything in their power to get back to the AFC playoffs.
Fortunately, Oakland looks to be at worst one of the five best teams in the AFC. While there are a lot of bad teams in the AFC, the Raiders are one of a handful of teams that can win multiple playoff games in January.
The easiest pathway to being able to do that is simple: win the division. That’s not going to be easy for the Raiders, as the AFC West might be the toughest division in football. Arch rival Kansas City is the most balanced team in the division. Denver and Los Angeles might be a step back of the Chiefs and Raiders, but should still be good football teams in their own right.
With the regular season rapidly approaching, here are five reasons it will be the Raiders that will win the 2017 AFC West title, host a playoff game and possibly reach Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII.
5. Improved offensive weaponry
One of the best offenses got even better during the offseason. Oakland took to free agency to bolster a few position groups on their offense to be more balanced heading into 2017. Three big acquisitions include running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Lynch came out of retirement to play for his hometown Raiders. He wanted to play for no other team, as he wants to give every last bit of football he has left for the Silver and Black while they are in Oakland. In training camp and in the preseason, Lynch is running with the conviction to be the leader of this deep running back group.
Cook has been thought of as huge mismatch as a receiving tight end for some time now. His foot speed and size makes him a difficult cover for slower linebackers and smaller safeties. With the offense Todd Downing has set up, look for Cook to have his best season to date in the NFL.
Finally, Patterson offers a vertical threat to the Raiders’ passing game and another explosive playmaker on special teams. The Minnesota Vikings’ decision to let him walk after 2016 was head-scratching. With a chip on his shoulder, look for Patterson to help this team as a No. 3 receiver and as a returner in the kicking game.
4. Denver’s quarterback issues and Los Angeles’ injury history will hold them back
Expect Kansas City to be the Raiders’ biggest hurdle to overcome in winning the AFC West. Oakland cannot get swept by the Chiefs this season. Just splitting the biannual pair would be wonderful for the Silver and Black. Winning in the cold in Arrowhead is a tough task for even the best teams in football.
Fortunately for the Raiders, the two other division rivals have some major flaws that will hold them back from winning the division. Denver has by far and away the worst quarterback situation in the AFC West. Los Angeles is dealing with a move from San Diego, as well as being the most snake-bitten team in football when it comes to the injury bug.
Paxton Lynch‘s inability to win the starting quarterback job out of camp over Trevor Siemian in Denver is troubling for the Broncos’ lost term future. They might have the best defense in the AFC West, but Denver will have to now win more tight, low-scoring games. Oakland has the offensive firepower to blow the Broncos out of the water.
While on paper Los Angeles should be a playoff contender, seeing its first two picks in receiver Mike Williams and offensive lineman Forrest Lamp go down for the season with injuries can’t sit well for the Chargers. With their offensive line lacking depth and skill position players dropping like flies during the season, it could be another tough year for Philip Rivers‘ team if history repeats itself.
3. Khalil Mack will make his defensive teammates better around him
Khalil Mack is coming off his best season of football in his life. The fourth-year pro out of Buffalo just made his second trip to the Pro Bowl, his second All-Pro team and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And he’s only getting better.
Mack is the undisputed leader of this Raiders defense and he will use that to help motivate the guys around him. He said to The MMQB’s Peter King during training camp that he wanted to have 30 sacks this year. That’s a ridiculous mark, but more power to him if he achieves that.
2. Derek Carr is capable of an MVP season
Before his season-ending leg injury, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was having an MVP level 2016 NFL season. At his peak last year, Carr was clearly top-five and probably would have been a finalist for the award had he stayed healthy and Oakland won the division instead of Kansas City.
Seeing his team fall in the wild card round against the Houston Texans couldn’t sit well with Carr. His recovery from a broken fibula has been a smooth one. In training camp and the two preseason games he played in Carr, looks as, if not more, mobile than he was pre-injury.
He is playing with tremendous confidence in and around the pocket. Getting to play in a free-flowing offense like Downing’s should only accentuate Carr’s unique skill set as a quarterback. He will have to improve his accuracy a tad, but arm strength and above the shoulders decision-making are still great strengths for Carr.
1. Best offensive line in division, AFC and possibly football
This is the separating factor for the Raiders when it comes to the AFC West hierarchy. The Raiders have the best and deepest offensive line in the division and it’s not even close. Kansas City is good to slightly above-average up front. Los Angeles lacks depth and Denver has issues setting the edge.
Oakland had three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line last year in Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn. After Penn ended his holdout, all three return.
Add in that right guard Gabe Jackson is poised to have his best season yet and the Raiders should be elite from left tackle to right guard.
Marshall Newhouse will man right tackle for the Raiders. Even if he struggles, Oakland has seen good things out of Vadal Alexander and David Sharpe in camp.
Should any of the interior plays succumb to injury, that will be tough to overcome, but guys like Alexander, Jon Feliciano and Ian Silberman offer versatility in terms of depth.