The Oakland Raiders found a way to compete in a division with two of the best running backs in football. They signed defensive tackles Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay) and Ted Washington (New England) to help stop San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Kansas City's Priest Holmes.
Good move: Tomlinson rushed for 187 and 243 yards, respectively, against the Raiders last year; Holmes had 100-yard rushing and receiving games against them.
"We're playing at a physical level both on the offensive and the defensive fronts," first-year coach Norv Turner told reporters in late August. "That's going to be our strengths. The offensive and defensive fronts are where it starts for us." The Raiders have a pretty good defense overall. Linebacker Napoleon Harris (107 tackles) and cornerback Charles Woodson (three interceptions) give the team a big-time player at all three levels, though don't expect anything big too soon: Harris is out for another couple of weeks with a knee injury, and Woodson didn't report to camp until about a week ago.
The offense has less talent. Two rookies may start on the offensive line, and that can't be good. Quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Kerry Collins each have started in a Super Bowl; never mind that they combined for nine interceptions and their teams lost by a combined 82-28. In the preseason, however, each looked pretty good, as did number three quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo.
Oakland fans aren't exactly the patient, understanding types. Arizona's "rally squad" threw T-shirts into the crowd during their preseason home game against Oakland. The Raiders fans grabbed the shirts and threw them back.
So spare a thought for Turner, one of the game's good guys. He's gone from working for Daniel Snyder to working for Al Davis. That's sort of like surviving the Titanic, only to buy a ticket for the Lusitania.
Best Hands: Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff gets the nod over Tim Brown because the Raiders didn't have a losing season in his 14-year career.
Worst Hands: They say cornerbacks are wide receivers who can't catch. So what to make of former Olympic sprinter Ron Brown? He was moved from wide receiver to cornerback in preseason in 1990, then was dropped from the defense and returned kickoffs.
Grading This Year's WRs: Former North Carolina QB Ronald Curry and Eastern High's Jerry Porter account for athletic ability. Last year, the unit had one pass play for over 40 yards.
WR Grade: C minus