The Oakland Raiders are not expected to do a whole lot in 2012. The Raiders are coming off of disappointing back to back 8-8 seasons and an off season in which the Raiders were forced to purge their roster and say good bye to a number of key players due to salary cap constraints. They have completely re-built their football operations from the top, with new general manager Reggie McKenzie, down to the field with new coach Dennis Allen and his almost entirely new coaching staff.
As a result of all the changes that surround the Raiders franchise, along with the fact that the Raiders showed a lot of room for improvement last year, but did not do a lot to improve this off season, most expect the Raiders to regress this year. Profootballtalk.com listed the Raiders as the 23rd team in the NFL, putting the Raiders squarely among the ten worst teams in the league, while ESPN's Ron Jaworski put the Raiders' franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer as the 21st QB in the NFL.
However, with all of that being said, the Raiders could very well be this season's version of the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. By no means is that meant to say that the Raiders will win 13 games in 2012, but much like the Raiders this year, the Niners were a team that was going through a lot of change and was expected to be an average team at best in 2011. Along that thought process, there are three primary reasons why the Raiders are underrated and will defy expectations in 2012.
1) Carson Palmer
The Oakland Raiders have been looking for a franchise quarterback ever since Rich Gannon retired. Since Gannon, the Raiders have gone through a long list of quarterbacks, none of whom did a whole lot for the Silver and Black. Even Jason Campbell, who has been the best quarterback in Oakland since Gannon, was nothing more than a holding piece. Now, however, the Raiders have a QB with the talent and capability to be a top five thrower in the league. He showed flashes of brilliance last season and if you take out the three interceptions he threw in the Kansas City Chiefs game where he played with zero practice, he had a good half year with the Raiders. In addition, the offense is suited for Palmer to find success. With the Raiders speedy receivers, look for Palmer to throw a ton of touchdowns this year and show that he still has a lot of game left in him.
2) Offensive Line
Besides quarterback, the offensive line has been a black hole for the Raiders for a long time. Last season, the Raiders offensive line finally went from being an enormous liability, to being an advantage at times. They have two young players in Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski, who very well could be playing in the Pro Bowl with in a few years. This season, they will move Wisniewski to center where he represents a major upgrade over former starter Samson Satele. They also added a veteran offensive guard who will excel in their running game with free agent Mike Brisiel and drafted a young lineman in Tony Bergstrom, who could push Cooper Carlisle for the other starting guard position. In previous seasons, the entirety of the Raiders offensive line was a liability. This season, only right tackle Khalif Barnes represents a potential liability for the Raiders. Despite that one hole. the Raiders will have a much upgraded offensive line in 2012.
3) New Defensive Scheme
Clearly, the biggest problem for the Raiders in 2011 was their defense. On numerous occasions, the offense looked like it had put a game away by building a large lead, only to see the defense get walked all over in the second half of the game and eventually allow the opposing team to climb back and get a win. The primary focus of the Raiders off season when it comes to the defense is the fact that the Raiders were forced to part ways with three starters and did not make any splashy moves to replace them, choosing instead to sign players who represented a good value. What is being lost, however, is that the Raiders cannot possibly be worse on defense than they were last season. They got rid of the starting cornerbacks who collected more pass interference penalties than any other team in the NFL. They are no longer restricted in their schemes as the passing of Al Davis will allow the Raiders defense to move into the 21st century. And finally, their new head coach is a defensive specialist and their new defensive coordinator is out of the Jim Harbaugh football family, a nice change from a defensive coordinator who was coming from the UFL.
The Raiders should see upgrades in some of its biggest areas of weakness in 2011. Their passing game will be much improved with Carson Palmer more comfortable in Oakland and the young receiving corps continuing to improve. Their offensive line play will be much improved and will help the Raiders offense be one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. And most importantly, their defense should be much improved, and with their offense the way it is, all they will need is a respectable defense, something Dennis Allen is more than capable of producing.