For the longest time, Bay Area foot-ball success belonged to the San Fran-cisco 49ers. But this season, Oakland will establish themselves as the premierteam of Northern California.
Historically and recently, the 49ers have been one of the league’s model franchises, garnering success almost whenever they play. But after a lackluster 5-11 season in 2015, San Francisco will continue to disappoint and regret the firing of head coach Jim Harbaugh.
On the other hand, the Raiders have shown nothing but promise. After over a decade of coaching carousels and in- consistent quarterback play, East Bay football began to turn around with the 2013 NFL Draft. The Raiders’ first two selections, defensive end Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr, have developed into NFL stars. Last season, Carr led a dynamic offense with help from rookie deep-threat Amari Cooper, finishing with a much-improved 7-9 record.
Through the first two weeks of this season, Carr’s high powered offense has not slowed down. Week 1 saw a 35-34 comeback victory over Drew Brees’ Saints, featuring a 22-point 4th quarter and a gutsy game-winning 2-point conversion. Week 2 was a bit of a letdown. The offense was able to put up 28 points, but Oakland gave up 35 to Julio Jones’ Falcons.
These early defensive struggles should not spell disaster for Raiders fans. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has proven to be a defensive mind throughout his career, constructing dominant units during his time as a defensive coordinator for the Broncos and Panthers. Forget about these past two high-scoring weeks and expect Del Rio to get this young unit on the right track.
The toughest AFC West competition will come from Denver and Kansas City, as early season injuries have devastated San Diego. After losing offensive emotional leader Keenan Allen to a gruesome ACL tear as well as running back Danny Woodhead, San Diego no longer has the offensive weapons to adequately compensate for their poor defense.
Despite having a below average statistical season, the reigning Super Bowl champs will miss Peyton Manning more than expected. Manning’s veteran presence and leadership can- not be overlooked. Denver’s defense will still be the league’s most punishing unit, but quarterback Trevor Siemian will struggle to consistently distribute the ball to their weapons throughout the marathon that is the NFL season.
Kansas City poses the biggest threat to Oakland’s hopes for a division title, touting the league’s most talented backfield, with three running backs worthy of starting in the NFL, as well as emerging superstar tight end Travis Kelce. But lingering defensive injuries will prove devastating to the Chiefs, especially among their aging stars like Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.
Although the Raiders play in a tough division, their young high-powered offense will keep rolling for the entire season. And once the defense stiffens up, Oakland will claim its first AFC West title in over a decade.