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Los Angeles Raiders Just Might Win It All

August 22, 1994

Once upon a (AP) _ 11 years ago, to be exact - an AFC team actually won the Super Bowl. That team, the Los Angeles Raiders, played very much like an NFC team, using power, size and a strong running game to establish its dominance.

The NFC has owned the Super Bowl since. Maybe it’s time for the Raiders to return and end the losing streak for the AFC.

″We’ve got a very good foundation,″ coach Art Shell says. ″We’ve got a lot of good, young players that made a contribution. I feel very good about this team. I think we turned the corner and are headed for bigger and better things.″

These Raiders just might be good enough to win it all, albeit with an offense and a style diametrically opposite to what they used in 1983.

Passing is the means by which the Raiders prosper these days. They ranked fifth doing it and defending against it last season. They’ve lost only one key figure, tight end Ethan Horton, from the offense, and have a collection of receivers unparalleled for speed in the league. Quarterback Jeff Hostetler proved he can get the ball to them.

Tim Brown is the ″slow poke″ of the group that includes James Jett, Rocket Ismail, Darryl Hobbs and Alexander Wright. Brown also is the most versatile, one of the best all-around receivers in the league.

″Speed is an integral part of fear,″ team owner Al Davis once said. ″We always said we’d rather be feared than respected.″

With Horton gone, Nick Bell is being moved from fullback to tight end. But the bombs-away attitude will prevail regardless of who plays there, or who is available to run the ball. Rookie Greg Robinson rushed for a team-high 591 yards in 12 games before injurying his knee and needing reconstructive surgery.

Free agent Harvey Williams and rookie Calvin Jones figure to get first call, working behind a veteran line anchored by Steve Wisniewski and Gerald Perry.

The secondary has added Albert Lewis, thus hurting Kansas City, as well. Terry McDaniel (five interceptions) is the best pass defender.

The Raiders have lived by the sack and the heavy-duty pass rush since the days of Ben Davidson and Otis Sistrunk. They had 45 sacks in 1993, but Greg Townsend and Howie Long are gone.

That leaves Anthony Smith (12 1/2 sacks) and Chester McGlockton (seven) as the latest quarterback terrorists and run-stuffers. They seem up to the demands of the job, but are Nolan Harrison and Jerry Ball?

Los Angeles’ linebacking situation is similar to running back, with no apparent take-charge guy.

But there are plenty of them elsewhere. Players such as Hostetler, fullback Tom Rathman, tight end Jamie Williams and guards Max Montoya and Don Mosebar are winners, champions. They just might lead the Raiders to that level again.

It won’t be easy in the league’s best division. Denver and Kansas City fully are capable of winning a dozen games, while San Diego and Seattle should be around .500 and strong enough to pull off some upsets.

No team improved itself more on offense in the offseason than the Broncos, which is a major reason John Elway’s smile has been so prominent.

″I can’t wait to get started,″ Elway says. ″Just look at what we’ve got here.″

Denver has a dynamic attack led by Elway, still a classic creator who might not have to be so resourceful with receivers such as Anthony Miller, Mike Pritchard and Shannon Sharpe, runners Leonard Russell, Rob Bernstine and Glyn Milburn and blockers Gary Zimmerman and Brian Habib.

Miller is the best receiver Elway ever has worked with, a force deep and short, with great hands and greater moves. Sharpe is an All-Pro receiver at tight end and Russell comes off a 1,000-yard rushing season.

So what can stop the Broncos from a fifth trip to the Super Bowl - and a fourth under Elway’s guidance? Defense, of course.

The Broncos get involved in too many shootouts, which is why Ray Crockett was signed away from Detroit and Ben Smith was acquired from Philadelphia to play the corner. Steve Atwater is a star at safety, but Denver ranked 27th in pass defense in ’93.

If Denver doesn’t get more of a pass rush, it could fade no matter how many touchdowns Elway produces. Simon Fletcher and newcomer Shane Dronett were terrific last year; they need more help.

Kansas City didn’t help itself much after making the AFC title game last season. Gone are Lewis, Kevin Ross, Lonnie Marts and Martin Bayless from a defense that ranked 11th. Never arriving was DT Tony Casillas, who reneged on a free-agent contract and didn’t report.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, now 0-3 in AFC Championship games, brought in veterans Mark Collins, Barry Wilburn and George Jamison; only Jamison figures to be an improvement over the man he replaces (Marts).

Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith are the stars of the big-play defensive unit that forced 38 turnovers. Except for nose tackle Dan Saleaumua, the supporting cast doesn’t approach their level.

So Kansas City needs big production from an offense that, if healthy, could do the job. That means counting on more than 11 starts from 38-year-old Joe Montana, who will produce if available; getting a repeat of the ’93 season from 34-year-old Marcus Allen (AFC-high 15 TDs, 1,002 total yards from scrimmage); and good years from receivers Willie Davis and J.J. Birden and a line that generally kept Montana intact when he wasn’t hurting himself.

San Diego won the division two years ago, then slipped to 8-8. Without Miller and Marion Butts on offense, it will have a new look, with Natrone Means and Shawn Jefferson the key players.

The defense ranked dead-last against the pass, so Dwayne Harper, Reuben Davis, David Griggs and Dennis Gibson were signed. Only Harper figures to make an impact, leaving Leslie O’Neal, Junior Seau and Chris Mims to make up for the departures of Gary Plummer and Burt Grossman.

Seattle isn’t quite ready to win, although it is making steady strides. Rick Mirer was a sensation as a rookie quarterback, and Chris Warren is a 1,000-yard rusher. Howard Ballard will help at tackle, but fellow former Bills Nate Odomes and Kirby Jackson were lost from the secondary with knee injuries.

Cortez Kennedy gets help on the defensive line from top draftee Sam Adams. It won’t be enough for a winning record - not yet, at least.

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Prediction: 1. Los Angeles (11-5); 2. Denver (10-6); 3. Kansas City (10-6); 4. Seattle (7-9); 5. San Diego (6-10).

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