by Tom LaMarre
With a flurry of acquisitions in the last several days, the Oakland Raiders got the attention of people in Las Vegas, and not only because the team is scheduled to move to Sin City in 2020.
Oddsmakers adjusted the Raiders’ chances of winning Super Bowl LIV after head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock bolstered their roster with the addition of four proven veterans.
B/R betting wrote this post on Twitter after it was reported that All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers was headed to the Raiders: “Oakland jumps from 75-1 to 50-1 to win the Super Bow, per @Caesars Palace.”
At 50-1, the Raiders are still longshots and should be after a disastrous 4-12 season in 2018, but there is speculation that the Raiders’ odds might improve even more once they make their three picks in the first round of the NFL Draft.
In addition to Brown, the Raiders added tackle Trent Brown, who helped the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl last season; free safety Lamarcus Joyner, who helped the Los Angeles Rams get to the Super Bowl against the Patriots, and wide receiver Tyrell Williams, one of Philip Rivers’ favorite receivers the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, easily the biggest addition was Antonio Brown, whom the Raiders basically stole from the Steelers for third- and fifth-round draft choices.
The Cleveland Browns had to give up first- and third-round picks and safety Jabrill Peppers to get star receiver Odell Beckham from the New York Giants this week, and the Raiders got a first-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Amari Cooper last year.
Brown will be the latest in a long line of great wide receivers to play for the Raiders, including Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Tim Brown, Warren Wells, Art Powell and, after great careers with other teams, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Willie Gault and Bob Chandler.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, the 5-10, 180-pound Antonio Brown had 837 receptions for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns in nine seasons with the Steelers and should be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.
We say should be because Branch, perhaps the player most like Brown on the above list, is still waiting for the call from Canton, even most people who saw him play figure he should have been there long ago.
Playing in a different era, the 5-11, 170-pound Branch made 501 catches for 8,685 yards (a 17-3.yard average) and 67 touchdowns in 14 seasons. When he retired in 1986, the four-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection held NFL playoff records with 73 receptions for 1,289 yards (17.7), and also scored five touchdowns in the playoffs.
However, Branch’s value went far beyond the numbers. He played on teams loaded with Hall of Famers and it’s fair to say he helped them get there.
Branch had world-class speed and passed up the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials to concentrate on getting ready for his rookie season with the Raiders after being drafted in the fourth round out of Colorado.
In addition to catching passes from Kenny (Snake) Stabler and Jim Plunkett, Branch played alongside pass catchers Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Tim Brown, Chandler and Todd Christensen.
The thing is, when teams were preparing to face the Raiders, the player they feared most was Branch because of his game-breaking speed. They game-planned for him, assigning two and sometimes three defenders to Branch.
What that did was open up the field for those other talented receivers, and for a running game that featured running backs Marcus Allen, Kenny King, Mark van Eeghen, Clarence Davis during Branch’s career.
The Raiders won Super Bowls XI, XV and XVIII, and common denominator in those games was Branch, who had 14 receptions for 181 yards and three touchdowns to help bring home the Lombardi Trophy each time.
The Raiders are hoping for more of the same from Antonio Brown.