(LaTavius Murray and Amari Cooper photos courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Talk of Fame Network
You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find the last season the Oakland Raiders went to a Super Bowl.
You’d also have to go back that far to find Oakland's last playoff appearance. Unbelievably, the Raiders have gone 13 consecutive seasons since that Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers without qualifying for the playoffs. But that drought could be ending very soon.
So say the voters in last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. Asked to identify the best team in the AFC West in 2016, the Raiders received an overwhelming 86 percent of the vote to easily outdistance the defending Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos. The Chiefs received seven percent of the vote, the Chargers four percent and the Peyton Manning-less Broncos a paltry three percent.
Jack Del Rio coached the Raiders to a 7-9 finish in his first season as head coach, with QB Derek Carr having a career season -- passing for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns. Now Carr, 1,000-yard rusher Latavius Murray and 1,000-yard receiver Amari Cooper are all a year older and a year better. So the Raiders should be able to score points aplenty this season.
Despite the retirement of safety Charles Woodson, the Raiders should be as formidable on defense as well, having added pass rushers Bruce Irvin from Seattle in free agency and Jihad Ward of Illinois and Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State in the draft. Inject Pro Bowl linebacker Khalil Mack to the mix, and the Raiders should get after some quarterbacks again this season. Oakland also drafted a potential replacement for Woodson in first-rounder Karl Joseph of West Virginia and got bigger at corner by signing Sean Smith away from the Chiefs.
The Talk of Fame Network tri-hosts Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge were split in their votes. Borges and Gosselin agreed with the poll's result.
"Silver and black attack is back!" Borges said. "They're going up while Denver and KC are going down and San Diego is going nowhere except maybe to L.A."
But Judge cast his vote for the Chiefs.
"They made the playoffs (in 2015) without their best offensive player," Judge said. "Now they'll have Jamaal Charles back to team with a quarterback who knows how to win, a head coach who knows how to win and a defense that knows how to win. They beat the Broncos once last year and should've beaten them twice, and they were 5-1 within the AFC West. The opening is there for someone to move forward ... and Kansas City is that someone."
The Broncos must choose between journeyman Mark Sanchez and first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch at quarterback in defense of their NFL championship. Denver still has the NFL’s most ferocious pass rush led by outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.