All stats and info come from espn.com, unless otherwise noted. Opinions and observations come from Ryan Kimball and Zeli Grey.
Raiders Team Preview:
The Raiders have a small, promising, young nucleus. Khalil Mack is a rising star in the league in just his second season. A top 5 pick in last year’s draft, the Buffalo University outside linebacker finished third in rookie of the year voting and finished the season with 80 tackles and 4 sacks. He flashed even more potential, and appears poised for a year two jump alongside pass rushers Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith.
The Raiders upgraded a lot at their receiver position this offseason, hoping to further Quarterback Derek Carr’s development. Amari Cooper was a top five draft pick this year, and he set numerous receiving records at Alabama over his productive four years there. Michael Crabtree is a definite upgrade as a number two receiver, and Derek Carr commented that he has “the best hands I’ve ever seen.”
While coaching might not be a strength of the Raiders, it is a definite improvement from the turmoil that plagued last year. Jack Del Rio has playoff experience as a coach for the Jaguars and a coordinator for the Broncos. While he has a lot of work to do in his new position, he appears capable of leading a playoff team.
In a word, multiple. Outside of a small core nucleus, the Raiders roster is flawed on many levels. Nearly every player on the team is either an aging veteran or an unproven young player. The secondary and offensive lines are notably weak, and they are relying on former sixth round pick Latavius Murray to lead their rushing attack. The 34-14 beating they took against the Cincinnati Bengals only further displayed the Raiders’ roster weaknesses.
While Jack Del Rio’s playoff experience is a strength of the team, he has yet to have sustained success as a head coach, and his coaching debut was far from ideal. The Raiders have a history of ineptitude in their coaching staff, front office, and roster, and these deficiencies might hinder their success this season.
The Raiders Season Hinges on:
The Raider’s 2015 season hinges on their second year Quarterback Derek Carr. This will be Carr’s second season in Oakland. At the end of 2014 season he finished with a 58.1 completion percentage, 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns. He threw 12 interceptions and fumbled four times. While Carr’s stats were subpar on nearly every level, The Fresno State alum was plagued by poor offensive line and receiver play all season. Carr flashed traits like touch, arm strength and accuracy in his rookie season, but he needs to play consistently in order to give the Raiders a chance to win on a weekly basis. His development is the ultimate X factor for any success the Raiders enjoy this year.
Ryan’s pick for the Raiders record: 4-12
Zeli’s pick for the Raiders record: 6-10
49ers Team Preview:
The 49ers still have a lot of talent at nearly every position group. Navarro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks are both pro bowl linebackers, and young pro bowl safety Eric Reid leads an underrated secondary. On offense, Joe Staley is a proven star as Colin Kaepernick’s blindside protection, and he will hold the offensive line together despite the loss of talented guard Mike Iupati. Carlos Hyde and Torrey Smith will lead new look running and passing games, and Colin Kaepernick, despite his inconsistencies and his lackluster 2014, has had success before and we consider him to be a slightly above average quarterback capable of winning games this year. Vernon Davis is another talented 49er that appears ready for a bounceback season.
The Niners handpicked Jim Tomsula over a variety of coaches with more experience, a sign that they truly believe in his coaching ability. Eric Mangini, the new defensive coordinator, has a proven track record as a head coach in Cleveland and New York and led very strong defenses throughout his coaching career. New offensive coordinator Geep Chryst is a former quarterback coach committed to furthering Colin Kaepernick’s development. While the Niners have lost Harbaugh, their replacements are promising and offer potential.
The 49ers are still reeling from the horrific offseason they endured this past year. Justin Smith retired as expected, but he was still a key player and leader on the defense. However, things went from bad to worse when the defensive captain and leader Patrick Willis surprisingly retired at the age of 29. Even more shocking, Chris Borland, fresh off an unbelievable rookie year and widely viewed as Willis’ replacement, retired at the age of 24, citing concussion worries and a lack of passion for the game. In addition to losing these players, the 49ers also fired their head coach Jim Harbaugh, the coach that had taken them to three straight NFC championship games heading into last season. They hired a first time coach in his play.
The losses don’t end there. Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith, and Ray McDonald highlight key losses, but there are almost too many losses to list. Pro Football Talk 49ers noted that the 49ers “have lost more playing time than any other team” going into this year. The offensive line appears particularly weak, with unproven starters all across the right side. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the worst statistical year of his career last season, and the 49ers still missed the playoffs despite all of the talented players they had on the roster last season.
To make matters worse, the 49ers play in the NFC West, which is very competitive division. The 49ers have won most of the titles in this division, however the Seattle have had a great run in the last few years – winning the Super Bowl and also appearing in the Super Bowl last year. The Rams and Cardinals also appear competitive and enter the season with high expectations.
The 49ers Season Hinges on:
The 49ers season hinges on their defensive pieces coming together. Last year was a complete mess for the Red and Gold, and the offseason was arguably worse. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh is gone, as are a whopping six defensive starters. With that being said, they have a young, talented group of replacements and a coaching staff with a proven track record of developing young players. However, in addition to the significant on field impact lost by the numerous players the 49ers lost to free agency and retirement, they have also lost the leadership that all pro linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive end Justin Smith provided. The 49ers defense is now led by the talented linebacker Navorro Bowman, and their season relies on his leadership of the 49ers young and unproven defense.
Ryan’s projection: 9-7
Zeli’s projection: 8-8