As the Raiders beat writer, it seems appropriate to go on record with a prediction for the 2006 season. So here it is ... 9-7, no playoff spot.
9-7 feels like a bold statement, and not just because they went 4-12 last year and had a decent shot at landing the #1 pick until late in the season. There is also the fact that they play in the mighty AFC, which features no less than nine teams that look like legit playoff squads. There is the fact that the AFC West in particular looks like a monster, with Denver, San Diego, and KC all teams capable of winning 10 or more games. Finally, there is the fact that they have a coach implementing an archaic system, two egotistical receivers that tend to make T.O. look stable and cooperative, a quarterback that the Saints didn't want (let that sink in for a minute), and a defense coming off a record-setting season for futility where interceptions are concerned (they picked off a whopping five).
So why, despite all that, am I forecasting a record better than .500? Am I insane? Am I drinking the Al Davis Kool-Aid?
Before you answer, allow me to forward my own possible solutions to this riddle:
1. To quote the annoying teenyboppers populating malls, movie theatres, and Maroon 5 concerts, the problem might be one of "TMI." That's right, too much information. Every day I read five different Bay Area newspapers in search of tidbits like "Ronald Curry was able to get out of his car without snapping his Achilles tendon today," and when you do that, you tend to get some of the fluff pieces as well. And I have to tell you, these Raiders beat writers are an optimistic bunch. They LOVE Art Shell. They LOVE rookies Thomas Howard and Michael Huff. They LOVE the assistant coaches, the practice facility, and Jerry Porter's belt. I'm telling you, these people are buying what Al Davis and Art Shell are selling. And after a while, I started to believe them. You read enough, "Aaron Brooks is picking up the playbook at an alarming rate!" stories and you start to think these guys are pretty great. Throw in the fact that I am universally ignoring the same over-indulgent stories about every other team and you can see why I might have blinders on.
2. The other factor is a better attempt at intelligent thinking (and less about being persuaded by propaganda) but a bigger stretch: I really believe that this Raiders team has a "the sum is better than the individual parts" feel to it. Shellís schemes might be outdated, but I think Oakland will play hard and cut down on mistakes. The defense is young, but they have more playmakers now. There are plenty of skill position players that will make each other better, most notably Brooks and Moss, who may be able to tap into some of the things that made Culpepper and Moss so tough in Minnesota. Brooks needs a big time downfield threat and he has that in Moss, and Moss needs a mobile quarterback that can buy time for routes that go long (both in distance and in time) and he has that in Brooks. I think they can make it work. I think this whole roster can make it work, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Overall, I just get a good vibe from this Raiders team. The question is which of the aforementioned reasons turns out to be real reason why this is the case. Do I like Oakland because they are going to be this yearís young, unexpected team that puts it all together, or do I like Oakland simply because I am too close to it all now and canít see the forest for the trees? Stay tuned.
Posted by A Hoff at 8/6/2006 12:15:00 AM