No one is predicting good things for the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
The team that went 4-12 last season, then had a major roster makeover, is being projected not only as the worst team in the AFC West, but among the worst in the NFL.
One writer in the Washington Times recently wrote that Oakland has the potential to be one of the worst teams in NFL history.
“The 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16, and these Raiders have the ability to match them,” he wrote.
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports didn’t go that far, writing that he believes the Raiders will win just two games and “test Raider Nation.”
But surprises (miracles?) sometimes happen. Some times, bad teams make good strides.
With the season kickoff Sunday against the Colts in Indianapolis, here are five things that need to happen for the Raiders to make strides in their rebuilding effort:
Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor needs to show he’s an NFL-caliber player. Though raw and often inaccurate in his passing, the former Ohio State star needs to learn under fire, starting Sunday against the Colts, and become a play-maker. Should Pryor develop this season, then the Raiders next April can get a play-maker at another position, and not have to use their No. 1 pick on a QB. And if Pryor makes huge strides this season, he’ll raise the games of other players, too.
Offensive line: Right now, the injury to left tackle Jared Veldheer looks devastating. The Raiders struggled in pass protection this summer, and the line is expected to struggle again when the season opens. But if second-round pick Menelik Watson can prove to be a solid player in Veldheer’s spot (though he tweaked a knee in practice this week), he can be an anchor for the development of the rest of the line. Under the guidance of new coach Tony Sparano, the line needs to make strides as the season goes on.
Running back: Darren McFadden needs to stay healthy. Any offense with a healthy McFadden can be dangerous. Without him, the Raiders are doomed.
The front seven: This remade group of free agents and a rookie (Sio Moore) needs to stop the run and get to the passer. Moore showed in the preseason he could be a difference-maker as a speed pass rusher. If this group plays better than last season, the secondary (also remade) will have a better chance than it did in 2012, when it was regularly shredded by opposing QBs.
Head coach: Dennis Allen needs to grow on the job, put the right players in the right positions, make smart game decisions and keep this team playing hard and positive, even if it gets off to a rough start. He brought in a new coordinator and line coach to improve the offense, and Greg Olson and Sparano will have to prove they were the right moves. Allen needs to prove in 2013 that he’s the guy to take this team into the future.