The Oakland Raiders enter the 2012 season with a number of changes to the organization, including the man at the top. Reggie McKenzie was hired away from the Green Bay Packers as the team's new general manager. McKenzie's first order of business in Oakland was to manage the salary cap, which resulted in a number of veterans getting a pink slip.
The Raiders are in the AFC West, where there is no clear favorite. The addition of Peyton Manning in Denver, the always dangerous Philip Rivers in San Diego and a Chiefs team returning several players from injury makes the AFC West a very competitive division.
Related: Chiefs Offseason Report
The Raiders finished the 2011 season at 8-8, which by record tied them for first place. Offensively, they were a solid running team last season finishing the season seventh in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. The Raiders have been one of the top running teams in recent years, so those numbers were no surprise. Overall, they were the 16th ranked offense.
Defensively, they struggled in a number of areas. The loss of Nnamdi Asomugha was difficult to swallow at times as they were ranked 27th in passing yards allowed. They were also ranked 27th in rushing yards allowed, a number that should improve in 2012.
The Raiders had their issues last season, but they were still right in the thick of the playoff race at the end of the season. There's no reason to think they can't be in a similar position late in the 2012 season.
Best Free Agent Pickup
The Raiders free agency was more about who they lost than who they gained. Among the players exiting Oakland are Kamerion Wimbley, Kevin Boss, Michael Bush, Stanford Routt and Jason Campbell.
The best addition might end up being offensive guard Mike Brisiel, who arrived from Houston with a five-year contract. He'll be a starter and replaces Cooper Carlisle on the offensive line. Also coming to Oakland is cornerback Ron Bartell, who signed in free agency. He should help fill the void after the Raiders lost Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt.
2012 NFL Draft
The Raiders were the last team to make a selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, without a pick until they selected Utah offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom 95th overall.
Also joining the Raiders in the NFL Draft is San Diego State LB Miles Burris, Penn State DE Jack Crawford, Arizona WR Juron Criner, Georgia State DE Christo Bilukidi and Penn State OLB Nathan Stupar.
Because they traded away their first two picks, the Raiders can't expect a major impact from their draft class.
VIDEO: AFC West Draft Grades
From SB Nation's Silver and Black Pride...
The Raiders were one quarter away from an AFC West crown last season. Now they appear to be the forgotten team. But you can bet Raiders' opponents will not be overlooking them in 2012, mostly because they are a big mystery.
These are far from the Raiders the rest of the league could predict to run the same defense and make the same mistakes over and over again. With Reggie McKenzie shopping for the groceries and Dennis Allen cooking them up, no one knows quite what they will serve up.
What we do know is they have some fine ingredients already in the pantry. There are several good proven players such as Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, Richard Seymour, and Tyvon Branch mixed with some fine young players such as Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, and Matt Shaughnessy.
With the additions to the other three AFC West teams, most of the sports world may be counting the Raiders out. But I guarantee you, their opponents are not.
They Make The Playoffs If...
Darren McFadden and the running game can be one of the best in the league once again. Carson Palmer is a key as well, but it's Oakland's running game that will determine its success. A solid season on the ground for the Raiders offense will only help Palmer and the passing game, especially with some of the Raiders deep threats at receiver. The secondary also needs to demonstrate that it has the ability to slow down two key quarterbacks in the division in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.