Raiders Preview Capsule
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-5)
New faces: RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Jared Cook, OL Marshall Newhouse, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, QB EJ Manuel, defensive assistant John Pagano, rookies CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Marquel Lee, DT Treyvon Hester.
Key losses: RB Latavius Murray, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Perry Riley, DT Dan Williams, OL Austin Howard, OL Menelik Watson, RB Taiwan Jones, OC Bill Musgrave.
Strengths: Offense led team to 12 wins and playoffs last year. QB Derek Carr emerged as one of top passers in Year 3 and led seven fourth-quarter comebacks. Offensive line allowed league-low 18 sacks behind trio of Pro Bowlers (LT Donald Penn, RG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson). Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree provide capable targets on outside. Cook should improve production at tight end. Lynch came out of retirement to play in hometown and has shown burst in preseason.
Weaknesses: Defense full of holes despite presence of Defensive Player of Year Khalil Mack and fellow edge rusher Bruce Irvin. Interior rush should be improved with healthy Mario Edwards Jr. and Vanderdoes. Still many questions at linebacker, secondary. Lee looked like fifth-round pick in preseason and might not be answer at MLB. Sean Smith struggled again at cornerback. Conley missed all of preseason with shin injury. Pagano expected to improve communication on back end, but no progress evident in preseason.
Fantasy Players To Watch: WR Amari Cooper. Cooper put up big numbers in second season with 83 catches for 1,153 yards; touchdowns could get boost from only five last season. Cooper rarely targeted in red zone with five catches on 13 throws with no TDs. He bulked up this offseason to help get off line better against press coverage and outmuscle defenders for contested catches in hopes of red zone boost.
Expectations: Raiders enter season with hopes of challenging New England for AFC dominance and giving Oakland championship before team leaves for Las Vegas in 2020. First must figure out way to get past Kansas City in division after getting swept last two years. Raiders ended 13-year playoff drought only to lose opener at Houston with Carr sidelined by broken leg. With Carr healthy, offense could be even more powerful this season. Beast Mode looked fresh in preseason for possible boost to power run game. Raiders could contend if defense improves. Oakland allowed NFL-worst 61 completions of at least 20 yards last season and ranked last with 25 sacks.
More AP NFL: pro32.ap.org and twitter.com/AP_NFL