Coming off a tough Sunday Night loss to the Titans, the Raiders have now lost two straight games since being the favorite to win Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. This is still a strong team with one of the league’s top offenses, but some cracks are starting to show in the foundation. We’ve been talking for three years now about how old this team is, and one has to believe that this is the last year they can keep the core of Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown together. Defensive stars Trace Armstrong, Bill Romanowski, and Rod Woodson are all retirement candidates as well. If this talented grouping of experienced players is ever going to yield a Super Bowl title, this is the year. While we can’t predict the future, we can certainly take a closer look at the reigning AFC Champions.
|Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)
Note: I will be using last year’s stats until week 5.
|Rushing Offense||110.1 (18)||21 (t5)|
|Passing Offense||279.7 (1)||26 (t8)|
|Rushing Defense||90.8 (3)||14 (t11)|
|Passing Defense||220.4 (23)||21 (t15)|
|Turnover Stats||Upcoming Schedule|
|31 takeaways (t8)
19 giveaways (t4)
+12 overall (t5)
If the Raiders don’t make it, they certainly can’t blame their schedule. Even though they play in arguably the NFL’s toughest division, dates with the Bengals, Bears, Browns, Lions, and Jets provide plenty of soft landings in between tough games. They also have the advantage of a nice mid-season bye week, followed by two of their easier games. The key to the Raiders’ schedule is the division games. The AFC West teams balance each other out so well that only one team might reach that magic 10-6 plateau to make the playoffs. By the time Oakland goes on bye in week 8, they should have a good idea how they stack up against the Broncos, Chargers, and Chiefs.
Rich Gannon, QB – Despite the loss in Tennessee, Gannon still had an impressive fantasy day, throwing for 264 yards and 2 TD’s. Nobody does a better job of taking care of the ball, and picking apart a secondary. The Titans’ defense is tops in the AFC, so look for those numbers to increase in the next few weeks against less staunch opponents.
Charlie Garner, RB – Although he lines up behind Gannon, Garner was the Raiders’ leading receiver last week. He looked very strong in the open field and will continue to be a double threat to defenses this year. Cincinnati gave up 120 yards rushing and 2 TD’s to Clinton Portis last week, so look for Garner to have a big game against the kitty-kats.
Tyrone Wheatley, RB – Wasn’t Wheatley supposed to be the change-of-pace guy here? Or at least the backup? His role has been in steady decline since he rushed for 1000 yards in the 2000 season. He didn’t even touch the ball against Tennessee. Perhaps he’ll just have to make room for the new guy …
Justin Fargas, RB – This rookie out of USC was one of the most impressive youngsters in the league during the preseason. He spelled Garner throughout Sunday’s game, and had 2 carries and 1 reception in that backup role. If you have Garner, stash him away on your roster as insurance. The fact that he’s moved ahead of Wheatley on the depth chart shows you that the Raiders won’t be afraid to use him.
Jerry Rice, WR – I’ve gushed on and on about Rice before. The man certainly has my respect as the greatest to ever play the game and it’s amazing what he can still do at the ripe old age of 40. (soon to be 41!) He is still a big target in this offense and should be in your starting lineup every week.
Tim Brown, WR – Brown looked washed-up at the end of last season, but he rebounded nicely this week with 5 catches for 64 yards and a TD. I said two weeks ago that he wasn’t even worth drafting. Now I say, he’s worth starting! But probably only as your #3 guy, and definitely keep an eye on him as the season goes on. He started well last year but then wore down in the second half, giving way to …
Jerry Porter, WR – This 6-2, 220 pound specimen is the future of the Raiders. He hasn’t shown yet that he can have that week-in, week-out impact on your fantasy numbers, but this could be his year to step into the role. However, you want to wait a few weeks before inserting him into your lineup. Let him prove that this week’s 1-catch-for-6 performance was a fluke before you depend on him for fantasy points.
Doug Jolley/Teyo Johnson, TE – Jolley looks to build on his promising rookie campaign this year by becoming a more consistent target for Gannon. While his stats of 5 catches for 33 yards won’t win a game for you, it’s good to know that he is getting balls thrown his way. For most TE’s, that’s all you can ask. There was a lot of pre-season hype about rookie Teyo Johnson, but his only mention in this week’s gamebook was for an illegal block. No point in rushing out to pick him up.
Defense/Special Teams – This is a solid unit that returns most of its personnel from last year’s Super Bowl squad. They played fairly well against the Titans, stuffing the run and getting two turnovers. You could do worse for a fantasy defense, but don’t expect many punt or kickoff return TD’s, and don’t expect them to blow teams up every week like Tampa or Philly.
The Bottom Line
As we can see, the Raiders are still a talented team. They have few weaknesses on either side of the ball. But it’s hard to stay on top for two games in the NFL these days, let alone two seasons. There are plenty of reasons why the Raiders could stumble on the way to another AFC title, and plenty of teams who are chomping at the bit to take it from them. It’s way too early to tell how this team will respond, but look for the offense to keep cruising and putting up great fantasy numbers. If you have Gannon, Garner, or Rice, enjoy the ride.
Next Week … It’s back to the NFC to examine a team who many predict will be an up-and-coming contender this year, the Carolina Panthers. Are they up to the challenge? Do they have any fantasy sleepers you can use in your lineup? We’ll put them under the microscope and find out.