Don't sleep on Raiders
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While the Cincinnati Bengals finished 4-11-1 in 2008, which included a momentum-friendly 4-3-1 second-half, few believed before Training Camp in 2009 that Cincinnati would rebound; winning seven of their first nine games, sweeping the division that featured both teams in the 2008 AFC Championship game thanks to quality drafting, renewed vigor with outcast veterans like Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Chris Crocker and redesigning of the offensive and defensive playbook.
Its vast improvements like what the Bengals featured last year that makes you understand that the little things can initiate a metamorphosis from mediocrity into the playoff contender.
Who would be that team in 2010? After missing the playoffs in 2009, it would be easy to suggest a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers would rebound; even though the division they're in makes it tough for anyone to assure a lock for a playoff berth. The San Francisco 49ers have as good a shot as any, considering the NFC West is arguably the least competitive division in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals going through many downgrades throughout the offseason.
Of the twenty teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2009, one must consider the offseason moves, as well as the moves from the competition in their division.
During the offseason, the Oakland Raiders picked up a quarterback in Jason Campbell; a vast improvement over JaMarcus Russell. Improving the 26th ranked team defense, the Raiders drafted linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle LaMarr Houston while trading for linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive end Quentin Groves and signing John Henderson. Having a defense that incorporates youth with veterans will assuredly help a defense that has an offense like the San Diego Chargers in the same division.
However, in the same division, you have to ask who else has improved? The Denver Broncos traded their best wide receiver in Brandon Marshall and their tight end Tony Scheffler with a quarterback competition between Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn expected. Kansas City made moves that will improve their offense by keeping receiver Chris Chambers and signing running back Thomas Jones while improving the defense through the draft with safety Eric Berry and Javier Arenas. While the Chiefs are noticeably improved, it's questionable if they'll be ready for a playoff run. While the team signed receiver Josh Reed, the San Diego Chargers will lose their primary receiver Vincent Jackson, who will serve a three-game suspension to start the season.
Of the most active, and necessarily so, the Oakland Raiders are the most improved in the division and could very well threaten for a playoff run in 2010.
July 13, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
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