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Battle For The AFC West Starts With The Oakland Raiders

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(Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

If you have ever had the chance to attend an NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, you know that there is often times as much action in the crowd as there is on the gridiron.

That being said, which Raiders team will show up this Monday evening in Oakland when the Chargers come calling? Will it be the one on paper for several years that some folks predicted could be an AFC West winner? Or will it be the one that has disappointed the Raider Nation for a number of years now?

Whichever team shows up, it will be a franchise the Chargers dominated during the 2000s.

While Oakland leads the all-time series 57-45-2, the Chargers ran off quite a streak against their arch-rival in the previous decade, going 14-6 against the Silver and Black. Oakland, meantime, has won three of the last four encounters.

Finishing at 8-8 a season ago, both teams look to improve upon their 2011 results.

While San Diego fans know the trials and tribulations their team went through last year, the Raiders were just as up and down.

With yet another new head coach in tow (Dennis Allen), the Raiders are wiping the slate clean and hoping to emerge with an AFC West banner in 2012, something they have not done since the 2002 team went 11-5.

The 2012 team will look for a healthy Darren McFadden this time around, as the former Arkansas Razorback was on top of the NFL rushing pile a season ago before going down with a season-ending foot injury.

Much of the focus on the Raiders and how far they go this season will revolve around the man wearing former great Daryle LaMonica’s number three, Carson Palmer. 

The former Bengal never fully got comfortable with Oakland’s offense a season ago, but with a full training camp under his belt, will this be his breakout year in the Bay Area? Much of that will depend on whether or not receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (led Raiders in catches and yards 64/975 last season). puts together a Pro Bowl type season. Also look to see if Palmer (2,753 yards passing in 2011) again tries to force too many passes into receivers, something that led him to 16 interceptions versus 13 TD’s last fall.

On defense, the Raiders will look to safety Tyvon Branch (paced team with 80 solo tackles in 2011), defensive tackle Richard Seymour and linebacker Rolando McClain. 

On special teams, the Raiders still field the deadly combo of punter Shane Lechler and place kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who arguably has the strongest leg in the game still to this point.

With a new head coach, yet still some questions about the product on the field, and issues regarding their depth, the Raiders could win the division this year or easily wind up in last place.

For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Chargers news, see CBSSportsLosAngeles.

Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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