If the 2012 season is to be about more than rebuilding for the Raiders, it will take a better effort from quarterback Carson Palmer. Oakland gave up two premium draft picks to land the former Bengals signal-caller, and the hope is that a full offseason in his new colors will help.
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The Raiders also hope that running back Darren McFadden can build on a solid 2011 campaign. If Palmer directs an above-average offensive attack, Oakland's veteran defense should be good enough to keep the Raiders in the AFC West race.
The Raiders wasted no time authoring an extreme makeover in the first season of the post-Al Davis era. New general manager Reggie McKenzie and new coach Dennis Allen -- a defensive coach, for a change -- will lead the charge and strive to create a sustainable winning formula. The new leadership did not have a lot to work with, focusing on replacing bad contracts with affordable, short-term fixes like cornerback Ron Bartell and defensive end Dave Tollefson.
Although Raider Nation did not celebrate impact additions like other teams in the division, the strategy gives Oakland a chance to become an annual contender after missing the playoffs every year since 2002.
The Raiders put the franchise tag on Tyvon Branch in March.
Oakland's first pick did not come until late in the third round, when the Raiders plucked Utah offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, who likely will wind up inside at guard. San Diego State's Miles Burris will provide depth at linebacker and should make a splash on special teams. Fifth-rounder Juron Criner, a wide receiver from Arizona, has the look of a steal, but the rest of the team's picks are projects.
There are plenty of reasons for the Raiders to be happy about their schedule. They play all three of the rebuilding Florida teams (the Dolphins in Week 2, the Jaguars in Week 7 and the Buccaneers in Week 9). They play two of their toughest non-division foes at home (the Steelers and Saints). And they start December with three straight home games (Browns, Broncos and Chiefs).
The team's biggest obstacle is a handful of difficult road games, including contests in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Carolina. Oakland bookends its season with games against San Diego -- the same Chargers team that eliminated the Raiders from the playoff race in the 2011 season finale.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Darren McFadden, running back. The only thing more difficult than keeping McFadden healthy and on the field? Tackling him in the open field. When he is running wild, the Raiders are a different team.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Tyvon Branch, safety. Oakland's franchise player is a playmaker in the secondary. He is a strong two-way safety who makes all the defenders in the back-end look better.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
If the Silver & Black can win four or more games in the AFC West, it has the chance to come out on top in a division that figures to be as up-for-grabs as any in the NFL. The Raiders did not make as many improvements as their AFC West rivals. However, Oakland finished in a tie atop the division in 2011 and is 9-3 against in the AFC West since 2010.