Gutierrez's NFL predictions: Doesn't look good for Raiders

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Gutierrez's NFL predictions: Doesn't look good for Raiders

With the regular season already one game old, it's time to make predictions for the 2012 season. Without further ado...

AFC

East
1) New England Patriots
2) Buffalo Bills
3) New York Jets
4) Miami Dolphins

North
1) Baltimore Ravens
2) Cincinnati Bengals (Wild Card)
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
4) Cleveland Browns

South
1) Houston Texans
2) Tennessee Titans
3) Indianapolis Colts
4) Jacksonville Jaguars

West
1) Kansas City Chiefs
2) Denver Broncos (Wild Card)
3) San Diego Chargers
4) Raiders

RELATED: Forbes ranks values of all 32 NFL teams

Playoff teams: Patriots, Texans, Chiefs, Ravens, Broncos, Bengals

AFC Wildcard round
Broncos over Ravens, Chiefs over Bengals

AFC Divisional round
Patriots over Broncos, Texans over Chiefs

AFC Championship Game
Texans over Patriots

NFC

East
1) Philadelphia Eagles
2) Dallas Cowboys (Wild Card)
3) New York Giants
4) Washington

North
1) Green Bay Packers
2) Detroit Lions (Wild Card)
3) Chicago Bears
4) Minnesota Vikings

South
1) Atlanta Falcons
2) Carolina Panthers
3) New Orleans Saints
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

West
1) 49ers
2) Seattle Seahawks
3) Arizona Cardinals
4) St. Louis Rams

Playoff teams: Packers, Eagles, 49ers, Falcons, Cowboys, Lions

Wildcard round
49ers over Lions, Cowboys over Falcons

Divisional round
Packers over Cowboys, Eagles over 49ers

NFC Championship Game
Packers over Eagles

SUPER BOWL XLVII
Packers over Texans

MVP: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Yeah it was probably typical pure Jim Harbaugh bluster, but Rodgers actually might be playing quarterback "at the highest level in the history of the game." Even if Rodgers' 4,643 passing yards last season were "only" the 19th-most in league history. Think he's not motivated by Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning throwing for more yards than him last year? Sure, he could get complacent as the reigning MVP, but folding in the divisional round of the playoffs -- at home -- to the New York Giants will only serve as more motivation.

Offensive player of the year: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster
The former undrafted free agent is already considered the most interesting man in the NFL -- cue the Dos Equis guitar -- now he becomes the most feared offensive force in the NFL. All it takes is good health, not only from Foster, who rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 617 yards and two more scores despite missing three games to injury, but from his quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed the Texans' last six games. Schaub being right allows a healthy Foster to dominate out of the backfield.

Defensive player of the year: 49ers defensive end Justin Smith
He doesn't have flashy stats -- his 7 12 sacks last year were only tied for 33rd most in the NFL -- and his 58 tackles were the third-fewest of his 11-year career. Yet, as a defensive end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme, few, if any D-lineman dominate a game the way Smith can. He won't be able to sneak up on anyone this season. Then again, he won't need to. It's taken a decade for Smith to emerge as a modern-day Howie Long, of sorts, but Smith just goes about his job. Just watch tape of him chasing down Jeremy Maclin to force a fumble. He gits-er-done.

Offensive rookie of the year: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III
There will be a big push for Indianapolis QB, and Stanford product, Andrew Luck here, as there should be. But while Luck will take his lickings on a very bad and rebuilding Colts team, RGIII is simply surrounded by better talent all around. Luck may have a more "impressive" campaign, but Griffin, in a more friendly system, will put up better stats in a supremely better division. It will be a battle reminiscent of last year's between Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

Defensive rookie of the year: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin
Who? You'll find out soon enough. True, at No. 15 overall, he was only the eighth defensive player drafted. But my does he fly to the ball. His speed was on full display in the Seahawks' final exhibition game against the Raiders and, while he was going against Oakland's backups, Irvin made them look like they were going in slow motion. An outside linebacker at West Virginia, Irvin is down on the line now and will flirt with leading not only the AFC, but the entire league in sacks.

Comeback player of the year: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
Just give the man the trophy now, what with his missing all of last year after not missing a single game the previous 13 seasons. Still, I do wonder how his surgically-repaired neck will react after his first full-speed blind-side hit. And how, after years of playing home games indoors his now 36-year-old body adjusts to playing in the elements of Denver in December. And how he'll like that leaky Broncos' offensive line that will get him hit with regularity. On second thought, nah, just give the man the trophy now.

Coach of the year: Kansas City Chiefs' Romeo Crennel
Wait, didn't this guy flame out in Cleveland after his star burned bright in the halcyon days of New England's early-century dynasty? True. But after taking over last year on an interim basis in Kansas City, the defensive-minded players coach, who was a welcome relief after the intense Todd Haley was shown the door, had the Chiefs a Richard Seymour-blocked field goal away from winning the division. The Chiefs have improved themselves the most in the AFC West and Crennel's feel-good ways should lead the way.

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

It’s not like the Raiders haven’t been looking for linebacker help. They just haven’t found any entering this week’s NFL draft.

They brought Zach Brown in for a visit, but he didn’t like the team’s offer and left without a contract. They have interest in bringing last year’s starting middle linebacker Perry Riley back, but their valuations don’t match right now and the veteran remains on the open market. They let two-year starter Malcolm Smith join the 49ers in free agency. 

Right now, the position group is a skeleton crew with brittle bones. Free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins is the only interior linebacker with double digit starts, and could man the weak side, or end up a roving backing.

There isn’t much experience or talent or depth there right now, meaning the Raiders might draft an inside linebacker early for the first time in general manager Reggie McKenzie’s tenure.

Sio Moore was a third round pick in 2013, but was a strongside linebacker and edge rusher before switching spots in deference to Khalil Mack. Outside that, McKenzie took Miles Burris (fourth round) in 2012, and choose Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball (fifth round) in 2015. Those picks haven’t worked out well.

Neither have free-agent stopgaps Curtis Lofton or Nick Roach -- a quality player who fell victim to concussion issues – or waiver claim Ray-Ray Armstrong.

It’s been an unexpected black hole considering McKenzie, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all played on the inside.

“We want good linebacker play,” McKenzie said. “Both Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether they’re in this draft or post draft or trade, somebody gets released, we’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our team; every position, including linebacker.”

While there are post-draft avenues to acquire inside linebackers, it might be time to go big at that spot.

There are attractive options likely available at No. 24 overall, where the Raiders can find the immediate impact starter they so desperately need. Let’s take a look at some who could be available when the Raiders pick.

Good fits: Raiders fans may shudder at the thought of selecting an Alabama interior linebacker with question marks. That’s expected after the Rolando McClain experience. Ruben Foster (6 feet, 229 pounds) is a top tier talent who could be slipping in this draft. He had a drug sample come back diluted at the NFL scouting combine, where he was sent home for arguing with a hospital employee. He has had shoulder troubles, though re-checks reportedly went well.

Foster is also an excellent player, the type of athletic thumper the Raiders are looking for. It’s still hard to see him sliding all the way to No. 24.

Florida’s Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), however, seems like a near-perfect fit. He can cover and tackle, with a killer instinct necessary at that spot. He’s also praised as a high-character player and person focused on football. Analysts say he has good vision, closing speed and has physical gifts to help his continued development shoring areas of weakness. Davis has been well hyped recently, and there’s some thought he too could go higher than No. 24.

Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham should be available there, and could ready right away. Analysts says he’s a playmaker with good instincts, technique and play diagnosis. He’s a quality tackler with a nose for the football. He’s durable and fast enough to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Detractors say he isn’t good getting off blocks and struggles with leverage at times, but Cunningham could be a productive three-down NFL linebacker soon.

LSU’s Duke Riley is a quick linebacker who can chase ball carriers down, and finished with a solid senior season. He might be a strong Day 3 pickup should the Raiders target other positions early in this draft.

Note: Temple's Haason Reddick wasn't mentioned here because he isn't expected to be available at No. 24. 

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”