Today's question: The Oakland Raiders have not had a winning season since 2002, yet by "winning" free agency by signing the likes of Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith, they seem on the verge. Is Oakland, which went from 3-13 in 2014 to 7-9 last season, the most improved team in the AFC West?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: The NFL’s annual scrapbook is littered with teams who “won’’ free agency only to discover their high-priced additions either couldn’t stay healthy or didn’t improve the chemistry in the locker room. But the Raiders appear to have added players who will be good scheme fits, which improves the odds they’ll see the results. Smith, for example, is the kind of bigger cornerback Jack Del Rio likes in his defenses -- much like when the Broncos signed Aqib Talib in free agency in 2014 -- and Irvin fits what the Raiders do as well. Osemele is young, 26, and has some versatility after starting games at both left guard and left tackle last season for the Ravens. He also surrendered just one sack last season, so that should help the continued development of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. The Broncos in 2014 made the playoffs after a similar free-agency binge -- they signed Talib, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward. Denver was coming off a Super Bowl season in 2013, but still each of those four have been named to the Pro Bowl at least once since arriving in Denver. The Raiders need that kind of performance from the new arrivals. They were close to being a playoff team before those players signed, and their draft haul in 2014, which included Carr and Khalil Mack, is what helped the team turn the corner. The combination of a franchise-changing draft class and the amount of salary-cap room the Raiders had this offseason is exactly what they needed. It would be a surprise, and a big one at that, if the Raiders don’t end the playoff drought.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: They are, at least on paper. But that alone won’t get them into the Super Bowl, or even to the division title. They certainly covered more ground than the Broncos or Chiefs and started far ahead of the Chargers. But climbing ahead of Denver and Kansas City in the standings and winning at least one playoff game will require more than winning in free agency. The Raiders have to change a deeply entrenched losing culture, and that’s not as simple as opening a checkbook. They looked like the same old Raiders last year in both of their games against the Chiefs. The first time, in Oakland, the Raiders went into the final quarter with a lead, but Carr threw three interceptions and the Chiefs went on to win by two touchdowns. The next time, in Kansas City, the game was there in the fourth quarter for the taking but Oakland couldn’t get it done. If the Raiders can find a way to finish games, Mark Davis’ free-agent spending won’t be for waste. If they can’t, the Raiders are looking at another non-winning season.
Eric Williams, San Diego Chargers reporter: With the additions Oakland made through the draft and free agency, the Raiders definitely are the most improved team in the AFC West -- on paper. But the Raiders have to show it on the field, which could prove harder than expected. Specifically, Oakland has to be more consistent in critical moments at the end of games. The Raiders were 5-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer in 2015, so this young team has to figure out how to play winning football to close out games.