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After a productive offseason that included a personnel overhaul in the front seven on defense, the Raiders have become a popular sleeper pick for prognosticators in 2010.
Some even envision Oakland making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha told PFW he thinks his team finally can knock the Chargers out of the top spot in the AFC West, and that Oakland is ready to compete for a title.
"I think we're not that far away (from being a legitimate title contender) right now," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. " … I think the agreement for each man is that it's this year. In my head it's this year. This isn't part of a rebuilding process. The people that have come in are for winning now. They're not for 'OK, five years down the line, maybe we'll have it all together.'
"My mentality is we have a chance. The sooner we get in, the sooner we have a chance to win it all, and we can get in this year because we can win the division this year."
It's clear Asomugha feels a sense of urgency to win now. The 29-year-old is in the second year of a three-year deal that made him the highest-paid corner in the league. His contract includes a team option for the third year, so this could be his final season in Oakland if the Raiders don't exercise that option.
The Raiders were in the Super Bowl the season before Asomugha was drafted. They haven't won more than five games in a season since.
"When I got there, we started losing," he said. "We haven't had any success. I feel like I cannot afford to leave this team without giving them something. I can't afford to leave this game, this city without giving them a championship, without bringing them back to the level where they were before I got there.
"I'll feel I had missed out on something or I let the people down. It's a big deal to me to be part of something where a lot of people count you out and then turn that around and watch them congratulate you."
The buzz surrounding the Raiders is a welcome departure from the kind of attention the franchise received over the past several seasons. Instead of being mocked, the Raiders are being taken seriously. Asomugha said the hype doesn't surprise him, but he has told his teammates not to get caught up in it.
"I continue to reiterate to my teammates and the guys around me that we haven't played any games yet, so let's not rest on anything that people are saying now," he said. "We still have to prove ourselves because if we don't, they'll be quick to jump back and say, 'things haven't changed, things will never change.'
"Don't sit around and read the papers and enjoy what's being said. There's got to be a focus and that focus is a game-by-game focus, not something that says we're great before we've done anything."
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