Last year's worst get a chance to start '07 on winning note Print
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Thursday, 06 September 2007 14:54
NFL Headline News

 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -The Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions have been linked for all the wrong reasons in recent years. A combination of bad draft picks, poor play and shoddy execution have made those teams two of the worst in the NFL the past four seasons.
By matching these two lightweights in the first week of the season, the schedule maker has done one of the teams a big favor by ensuring they'll start the 2007 season on the right note. Despite their histories, both teams are optimistic for a turnaround this season.
``Everybody coming into the season thinks they'll be better than last year - all 32 teams,'' Raiders receiver Ronald Curry said. ``You don't come into the season thinking you're going to have another 2-14 year. As an athlete or a competitor, you don't do that.''
Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna has gone beyond that, predicting the Lions will end a string of six double-digit loss seasons with at least 10 wins. For a team whose 19 wins over the previous four seasons are more than only one team - the Raiders, with 15 - that's pretty heady stuff.
The Lions' legacy of losing runs much deeper than the Raiders, who went to the Super Bowl as recently as the 2002 season. Detroit has the worst record in the NFL since 2001, has not been to the postseason since 1999 and has only one playoff win since taking the NFL title in 1957.
``We added some pieces so we really feel like we've got the pieces necessary to make the big jump,'' Kitna said. ``Last year, 3-13, that's just not the team we really felt like we were. It's not like every game we were getting blown out. We were there and sometimes we were in control of football games and we would do something self-imposed, whatever it may be.''
Coach Rod Marinelli saw signs of progress in his first season with the Lions, even if those didn't lead to more than three wins. Detroit lost eight games by seven or fewer points and closed the year with a 39-31 victory over playoff-bound Dallas that gave Oakland sole possession of the worst record in the NFL and the No. 1 pick in the draft.
But Marinelli knows the only progress that counts in the NFL is the kind that shows up on a team's record.
``The bottom line is, that is our record,'' he said. ``That is my record. That's what it is. That's the reality of it all. Now, do I see things that you can't see? Yeah.''
The Lions made some changes in the offseason to try to improve, adding Edwin Mulitalo and George Foster to an offensive line that allowed 63 sacks; bolstering their backfield with Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett; and giving pass-rush specialist Dewayne White $13 million guaranteed to sign with the team.
They also drafted Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 overall pick, the fourth receiver picked by team president Matt Millen in the top 10 in the past five drafts.
The Lions were able to get Johnson, considered by many the most talented player in the draft, because the Raiders chose quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Johnson will be the only one of those high picks in uniform as Russell remains unsigned.
Kitna said he ``prayed'' Oakland would pass on Johnson so he would have another big-play receiver to team with Pro Bowler Roy Williams. Kiffin said he had never seen a player have as impressive a workout as Johnson did before the draft.
``I would be shocked if he's not a great player in this league,'' Kiffin said.
While the Lions mostly tinkered, the Raiders underwent a complete overhaul. Coach Art Shell was fired and replaced by 32-year-old Lane Kiffin, who will be the youngest man to coach a game in the NFL since Harland Svare took over the Los Angeles Rams as a 31-year old in 1962.
Kiffin changed the entire offensive coaching staff and will start at least five players on offense who weren't even on the team last year, including the quarterback. Kiffin didn't announce whether Josh McCown or Daunte Culpepper would start Sunday, hoping to gain a competitive advantage, but signs pointed to McCown, who has gotten the majority of first-team snaps in practice.
McCown, a backup last season with the Lions, said it would be fun to face his former teammates Sunday, but that would only be one element.
``More important than anything, not just the fact that I played there, but this is our season opener, Lane's first game as a regular-season coach,'' McCown said. ``All those things go into it. ... From that standpoint, I'm ready to go for these guys.''
The Raiders hope the changes will make the struggles of last year, when they had one of the worst offenses ever, old news. Their 168 points were the fifth fewest in a 16-game season; they scored only 12 offensive touchdowns and allowed a league-worst 72 sacks.
That led to them being the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows and overmatched on the field.
``You get tired of hearing it,'' Curry said. ``Last year is behind us. We have a new coach, new quarterbacks, new starting receivers, new linemen. It's a whole new thing. For us to still be judged on the past is crazy.''
 

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