OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Bay Area football is right around the corner! The narratives surrounding the 49ers and Raiders are different than we have become accustomed to.
The Oakland Raiders have been amongst the weakest NFL teams since 2002. While they did make great strides during the 2015 season, their 7-9 record marked the 13th straight season where they finished at or under a .500 winning percentage. Despite this prolonged period of (mostly) losing, almost everything seems to be trending in the right direction for Oakland as they gear up for 2016.
They have the most important piece for a football team: a talented quarterback.
They’ve done well to protect that QB, Derek Carr, and build around him in the last two years. They’ve assembled what should rank as one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in 2016, they’ve acquired talented weapons to throw to, and a competent running game. This off-season, they finally added more talent to round out the defense. They get a double win in bringing in Sean Smith to play cornerback, adding a talented piece to their much maligned secondary while weakening a division rival in the process. Bringing in a supreme athlete like Bruce Irvin to play linebacker, who comes from a winning culture and is familiar with the system thanks to Ken Norton’s time in Seattle, and drafting safety Karl Joseph in the first round should all serve to make this a vastly improved unit in 2016.
The balance in the AFC West is in the process of shifting. The Super Bowl champion Broncos are likely to have Mark Sanchez or a rookie starting at QB and a defense that lost some key pieces, the Kansas City Chiefs are a good team that has likely peaked (and may be without on of their best players, Justin Houston, due to injury), and the San Diego Chargers appear to be a mess. It won’t be easy, but I think this is the best chance the Raiders have had to break through in a long time.
The narrative for the San Francisco 49ers is very different heading into 2016. Their immediate history coming into the 2015 was almost the polar opposite than that of the Raiders. They made three Conference Championship game appearances, including one Super Bowl appearance, and their worst year under Harbaugh was an 8-8 finish. What’s the logical reaction? Fire the coach.
The Harbaugh firing has been hashed, rehashed, and rehashed again. But it is still relevant, because that’s how we ended up where we are today. The Jim Tomsula head coaching experiment was a failure last year. This is why the 49ers are on their third head coach in the last three seasons. Chip Kelly, fired by the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2015 season ended, and his up-tempo offensive system are now in the Bay Area. His system is a far departure from the style that brought the 49ers so much on-field success with Jim Harbaugh. When Kelly came into the league, he was touted as an offensive genius that would revolutionize the game. He had some immediate success, but ultimately failed after getting rid of (trading away & releasing) some of the most talented players on the Eagles roster.
Theoretically his style and system could be exactly what is needed to revive the career of Colin Kaepernick, who is in the midst of a battle with Blaine Gabbert for the starting quarterback job. The reality of the 49ers situation is far different than that of the Raiders. Their roster has question marks at several spots. Their only standout offensive player is a talented 3rd year running back in Carlos Hyde, but he has missed 11 of a possible 32 games so far in his career. There are questions along the offensive line and at wide receiver, and the talent at tight end is far from exciting. If the 49ers are going to have success this season, whoever wins the starting QB job will need to outperform current expectations.
Defensively the 49ers are not what they were two years ago, but they should still be a good unit. They have some nice, young talent on this side of the ball. But it remains to be seen how they will be able to operate in conjunction with the type of offensive system that Chip Kelly is bringing to the 49ers. The Eagles had the lowest time of possession in the NFL in 2015, in large part due to the pace that they play. Because of this, the Eagles defense was on the field for a whopping 1,148 plays (hint: that was the most in the NFL). The Seahawks were on the field for an NFL-low 947 plays (201 less!)! How did that difference in plays translate in terms of yards and points? The Eagles gave up the third most yards (401.6 yds/g) and fifth most points per game (26.9 ppg). Seattle gave up the second least yards (291.8 yds/g) and were the best scoring defense in the NFL last year (17.3 ppg).
Anything could happen this season for the 49ers, but they have the misfortune of being in what is arguably the toughest division in the league at the moment. That, combined with a new coaching staff, leads me to expect some growing pains. I think 2016 is going to look a lot more like last season than the successful Harbaugh years.
Don’t expect a fast start from the top-3 picks of the NFL Draft.
The Los Angeles Rams listed Case Keenum as the starter on their first depth chart of the season. I've seen several reports that have stated that the Rams are seriously considering having Keenum be the starter at the beginning of the season. I think it is absurd for a team to give up the kind of haul that the Rams did to draft Jared Goff only to not make that player your day one starter. It's especially ridiculous if they guy you are talking about starting is the owner of a 5-10 career record and 56.7% career completion percentage.
The Philadelphia Eagles also gave up a haul, albeit a slightly smaller one, to move up to the number 2 slot to draft Carson Wentz, but made it clear from the outset that he would be behind Sam Bradford (and probably Chase Daniel) as a rookie. It's absurd, but just a little less so than the Rams situation.
It’s a complete and total joke that the San Diego Chargers don’t have Joey Bosa, the third overall pick in the draft, under contract with just a few days to go until pre-season action starts. Bosa is the only player selected in the draft that doesn’t have a contract done yet. This is the longest holdout since the current CBA went into effect in 2011, and the last rookie to have a longer holdout was current Raider and former 49er Michael Crabtree. The current CBA slots determine how much the player can make. The issue here is offset language and the schedule for paying Bosa his signing bonus. Since 2012, every single third overall pick has signed a contract that had EITHER offset language OR a deferred signing bonus. The Chargers are holding fast requiring both. Bosa’s camp claims that they are willing to give one or the other, but not both. My take: if you liked the player enough to draft him third overall… Pay the man and get him in camp. Compromise and move on. This is a terrible way for the Chargers to introduce a player that should become a franchise cornerstone to their fan base.