The Oakland Raiders open their 2011 NFL season against the Denver Broncos on the road on Monday Night Football. The team will look to build on its improvement last year, though the Raiders will have to do so with lots of turnover from last season.
Last season, the Raiders finished with a .500 record or better (they were 8-8) for the first time since 2002, when the team went 11-5 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Last season, the Raiders brushed aside the AFC West by sweeping all six games. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The Kansas City Chiefs broke through and made the playoffs.
Could it be the Raiders' turn this year? The team returns quarterback Jason Campbell and lead running back Darren McFadden, who had a breakout campaign in 2010. The team also has a bright stable of young receivers, including Darrius Heyward-Bay, Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore and (perhaps not as young) Derek Hagan.
The Raiders were mediocre on defense last year (11th in overall defensive efficiency, second overall against the pass and 29th overall against the rush). The high pass defense ranking will surely drop this season without cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who departed for the Philadelphia Eagles. You can only suspect that the defense will slip a bit.
But who knows? Teams surprise all the time, and the Raiders defense could come up big. The Raiders did some great things in 2010, and they have the pieces to make the same kind of magic happen again. Whether they outperform their 2010 season or not remains to be seen, but right now they only have one goal in mind: beat the Broncos on opening night.