Updated: August 30, 2012, 12:02 PM ET
AP Photo/Ben Margot JOHN CLAYTON QB RANKING (21): Carson Palmer passed for 2,753 yards in 10 games with the Raiders last season, but the veteran also threw 16 interceptions.

Expert Picks (Consensus: fourth)

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Raiders:

1. It all starts with McFadden: Running back Darren McFadden is the key to Oakland's success this season. I would be hard-pressed to find five non-quarterbacks around the league who are more vital to their team's success than McFadden is in Oakland. The Raiders were 4-2 last year when McFadden suffered a season-ending foot injury. Oakland finished 8-8. The Raiders' entire offense changed without the firepower the explosive McFadden offered. McFadden has missed at least three games in each of his four NFL seasons. Durability must stop being an issue for McFadden.

2. Palmer hits restart button: Palmer is entering his first full season in Oakland. Former Raiders coach Hue Jackson tried to save last season by acquiring the disgruntled Palmer from the Bengals -- Jackson coached Palmer at USC and in Cincinnati -- after Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Palmer was thrust into action and now admits he wasn't in great football shape. Palmer had his moments and he displayed his big arm plenty last season, but he had accuracy problems and threw 16 interceptions in 10 games with the Raiders. With a full offseason and training camp with his teammates and coaches, Palmer thinks he should have better success in 2012-13.

3. Defensive relief: There is a sense from Oakland's defenders that there will be much more freedom than there was last season. It was well-known that the late Al Davis was essentially the de facto defensive coordinator until his death last October. Now with defense-minded head coach Dennis Allen (the first such coach in Oakland since John Madden) and new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver calling the shots, the players are excited. It opens up the defense and Allen promises to use multiple sets. The Raiders need a new defensive outlook and they are getting it.

4. Health is a must: Yes, the Raiders' health starts with McFadden. But Oakland needs to have good health luck throughout the starting lineup. Because of a tough salary-cap situation and two small draft classes, the Raiders are not an overly deep team. They are very thin at some spots. Oakland is very top-heavy. It has a lot of talent. But if injuries pile up and a lot of replacements have to play, it probably will take a toll in Oakland.

5. Greg Knapp, Take II: Knapp is on his second tour of duty as Oakland's offensive coordinator. He ran the unit from 2007-08 before he had his duties stripped by then-interim head coach Tom Cable. Knapp's first tenure didn't go very well, and a big reason was former quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Yes, it's still OK to blame Oakland's problems on the Russell era. Knapp is bringing the West Coast offense and a zone-blocking scheme to the Raiders. This is Palmer's first experience with the West Coast system and he's totally on board. McFadden performed better in the post-Knapp power-blocking scheme. However, McFadden said he is comfortable in this scheme and he has looked good in training camp. The bottom line is Knapp has much more offensive talent in his second go-around in Oakland, so expect much more success.

-- Bill Williamson, ESPN.com

Inside The Numbers

After Campbell went down with a shoulder injury in Week 6 last season, the Raiders traded draft picks to the Bengals for Palmer. The Raiders were 4-2 with Campbell but finished 4-6 under Palmer and missed the playoffs.

Palmer struggled with turnovers, throwing 16 interceptions, including three in the red zone. Palmer's 9.3 attempts per red zone interception were the worst among qualified quarterbacks since 2009.

Injuries also hurt the Raiders. McFadden had only two rushing attempts after Week 6, and the Raiders' running game needs McFadden to stay healthy. After averaging 160 rushing yards from Week 1 through Week 6, Oakland averaged only 115 from Week 7 to 17.

• The Raiders' offense has big-play ability. The Raiders were second in the league with 21 rushes of 20-plus yards and sixth in the league with 26 pass plays of 30-plus yards last season. Darrius Heyward-Bey led Raiders receivers with 30 receptions and 696 yards on throws of 15 air yards or more downfield.

• Conversely, the Raiders struggled to contain big plays on defense. In 2011, they gave up 22 pass plays of 30-plus yards and 24 rushing plays of 20-plus yards, which was second-to-last in the NFL. The rush defense allowed a league-high 5.1 yards per rush and especially struggled on running plays outside the tackles. It allowed 5.7 yards per rush on such runs.

-- ESPN Stats & Information


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