Oakland Raiders Will Be NFL's Biggest Surprise in 2013

Improved Defense, Easy Schedule Will Make for Huge Improvements

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Call it crazy or call it wishful thinking, but the Oakland Raiders have the opportunity to make some serious noise in 2013.

Yes, the team is in the middle of an insane overhaul, but the Raiders are already miles ahead of where they were at any point last season.

General manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a disaster when he came into town last year, but he has worked his magic in free agency as well as the draft, and has made the Raiders more than just a cellar dweller in the AFC.

Offense

In 2012, the Raiders inept offense was led by Greg Knapp, an offensive "coordinator" who has never been very successful in the NFL. The offense was completely one-dimensional, and their inability to play a consistent 60 minutes of football made it impossible for Oakland to stay competitive for the long haul.

Now, Knapp is gone. So is Carson Palmer, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Brandon Myers.

Some inexperienced quarterback will be under center for Oakland when the season begins, and the offense will be the team's biggest question mark. The Raiders drafted offensive tackle Menelik Watson in the second round to improve the inconsistent line, but Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski are back to hold it down like they did last year.

With Greg Olsen in as the new offensive coordinator, the power-blocking scheme has made its way back to Oakland. This is critical for Darren McFadden as he struggled mightily in Knapp's zone-blocking scheme. If McFadden can finally stay healthy, the return of the downhill running game will be extremely dangerous for other teams when McFadden has the ball in his hands.

The receiving corps will be a bit of a liability since injuries and dropped passes have plagued them lately, but this is a new-look offense, and the Raiders have nowhere to go but up after last season.

Defense

Anybody that McKenzie brought in this offseason instantly made the team better. Oakland's pass defense was one of the worst in the NFL last year, and the rest of the defense let running backs make it look like they were practicing against them because the defense was so bad.

Just ask Doug Martin. Heck, ask Blaine Gabbert.

The defense is completely revamped from the struggling line to the horrible secondary. The return of fan-favorite Charles Woodson, as well as the acquisitions of Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden make this secondary much more competitive.

Although Oakland lost its leading tackler from last season in Philip Wheeler, Miles Burris is still here, and he has some new company to compete against.

Rookie Sio Moore has looked great in OTAs so far, and Kevin Burnett brings his 110 tackles from last season to a linebacker corps that looks completely different from last season with the exception of Burris.

The additions of Kaluka Maiava and Mike Jenkins also add depth to a vastly improved defense.

The defensive line struggled mightily last year, and with Desmond Bryant no longer in the trenches, it will be up to Lamarr Houston, the surprising Christo Bilukidi and the veterans McKenzie brought in to at least make the line relevant.

Either way, this defense will be significantly better than last year.

Special Teams

For the first time since 2001, the Raiders will have a starting punter not named Shane Lechler. However, they can choose between the veteran Chris Kluwe or the young, booming-legged Marquette King to pin other teams deep in their own territory.

Seriously, watch the video.

Josh Cribbs will also provide a spark to Oakland's special teams unit as his electrifying returns are sure to give the Raiders excellent field position.

And of course, who could forget Sebastian Janikowski?

Conclusion

This is a completely new Raiders team that has nowhere to go but up. McKenzie slashed contracts left and right but saved millions and millions of dollars and gave this dedicated fan base something to look forward to for many years to come.

The Raiders won't make the playoffs this year, but they won't be irrelevant like so many others have predicted.

Raider Nation is excited for the future, and it should be. Throw in all of the improvements McKenzie has made so far, mix it in with the league's fourth-easiest schedule and you have an Oakland Raiders team that is on the serious rise in 2013.

Steven Slivka is a Freelance Writer for the Oakland Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter @StevenSlivka.

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