Lets face facts, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers have not exactly been power houses in the NFL over the past few years. In fact, Bay Area football has been borderline pathetic in recent years. The Raiders have been going through coaches and quarterbacks quicker than Charlie Sheen goes through coke and hookers (sorry, just watched the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen), while the 49ers have refused to admit to their mistake and continue to start a guy at quarterback who will never be any better than above average.
With both teams now looking as though they are beginning to awaken from their coma's of mediocrity, it is not surprising that the sports pundits have not yet jumped on the band wagon as most still rate the Bay Area football teams based on their recent history as opposed to what they have done this season.
While most clearly have not bought into the Raiders and Niners being good this season, at least one writer at ESPN is starting to buy in. On Tuesday, Chris Sprow, one of ESPN's Insider contributors, wrote an article listing what he believes to be the three most overrated and three most underrated teams in the NFL's list of power rankings. (Note: you can only access the story if you are an ESPN Insider subscriber). Tops on the list for most underrated? The Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
The Oakland Raiders were listed at number 13 while the 49ers were listed at number 20 in this week's edition of the ESPN NFL power rankings. In previous seasons, these rankings would really not appear that low, especially for the Oakland Raiders who have found themselves ranked in the top half of the league. However, with two new head coaches who appear to have found a way to get more out of these teams than anyone else in recent history, these rankings really do appear to be underrating the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
Just over one week ago, it appeared that the Raiders may not be ready to make the leap to being a good team after losing a heart breaker in Buffalo. Fast forward a week and suddenly the Bills look like a pretty darn good team, and the Raiders physically dominated one of the most physical teams in the NFL.
The 49ers on the other hand, have not looked very strong on the offensive side of the ball this year (they were unable to even cross the 50 yard line in the first half of last weekend's game) but Jim Harbaugh has their defense looking great and is making sure the offense does just enough while protecting the ball and field position. If not for an incredibly close overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers would be undefeated this season.
Sprow believes that if the 49ers can continue to get passable play from Alex Smith, then the NFC West is there for the Niners to take. As he puts it, his listing of the 49ers as being underrated, is by no means a love letter, but rather is an acknowledgment of how bad the NFC West is and an acknowledgment of the fact that Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff clearly know what they are doing.
Meanwhile, Sprow believes that the Raiders are underrated for two reasons. First, he does not believe that the ESPN rankings give sufficient credit to the potential of the Raiders. Right now, Oakland is riding on the back of a very young offensive line, young receivers, young defensive ends and a whole lot of youth in the team's back up positions. If these players continue to develop at the rate the have been, the Raiders could be scary. Second, Sprow notes that the Raiders went 6-0 against the AFC West last season and still has five of those games remaining. With the Chiefs and Broncos still struggling, only the two games against San Diego should be close if the Raiders continue to play the way they did against the Jets.
This week, both teams will face tough tests that will go a long way towards either proving that they have been underrated and are better than most think, or could burst the bubble of Bay Area fans. The Raiders will take on the New England Patriots at home while the San Francisco 49ers will take on the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. Either way, after this week, expect there to be movement on the power rankings of both the Raiders and the 49ers.