Raiders

Marshawn Lynch perfects a post-hyphy Miles Davis in Oakland

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AP

Marshawn Lynch perfects a post-hyphy Miles Davis in Oakland

Marshawn Lynch threw another $24,000 and change into the NFL’s end-of-year charitable contribution pot Thursday, this time for yelling at an official during Sunday night’s loss to Dallas. File this under, “Yeah, that’ll make him toe the line.”
 
Fining Lynch is always a hilarious gesture, as it changes his behavior in zero ways. His tab this year is $146,309 (figures courtesy Spotrac), which is still a distant second behind Michael Crabtree among Raider miscreants and a paltry 15th among players not involved in drug violations.
 
Frankly, Lynch has been a veritable exemplar of modest and unassuming youth by that standard.
 
The fines are still $146,309 more than he paid in the prior two years, given that he didn’t play at all in 2016 and only seven games in 2015. His misdemeanors include joining in a brawl, contact with an official and double birding the Tennessee Titans, and while they aren’t as inherently sexy as his Skittles shoes in 2015 or his green shoes in 2011 or crotch-grab touchdown celebrations or his not talking to the media on approximately 779 occasions, it is an impressive first year’s work in Oakland.
 
Still, he seems to be mellowing in his old age. Yelling at officials is a very low bar to clear, and the wear-and-tear on his body may be ruling out his leaping groin-grab touchdown celebrations. Plus, with celebrations now taking on more elaborate forms in the new liberalized climate, one man’s impish sense of humor doesn’t equal a can-can line or a sack race.
 
Nevertheless, Lynch is doing his best as a soloist – a post-hyphy Miles Davis whose sheet music can’t be read by most musicians. And unlike the largest fines, which are either drug- or on-field-conduct-related, his are just for smarting off to authority figures, and we can all agree that such demonstrations, while occasionally distasteful, does tend to lower one’s stress level.
 
Besides, Seattle just got fined for discarding the league’s concussion policy with quarterback Russell Wilson, which is far more egregious an act than Lynch punching the air with his middle fingers.
 
Plus, there are two more games in which he can pad his totals. I mean, he may not be record-driven, but it is the holiday season and all, and if he’s going to go, go big and damn the expense. After all, he has a standard to downhold.

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

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USATSI

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.

Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

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AP

Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

Just win, baby.

Twice in his career, Jon Gruden has been given that directive as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was considerably more successful the first time around.

Gruden never finished below .500 in his first go-around with the Raiders, but in making his return to the franchise last year, he led Oakland to a 4-12 record -- tied for the worst record in the AFC.

Right after Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to move out of the Monday Night Football booth and back to the sidelines, many questioned whether his time away from coaching would put him behind the eight-ball. Given how the Raiders performed last season, it didn't exactly silence that noise.

And yet, at least one analyst believes Gruden is still an above-average coach. NFL.com's Elliot Harrison ranked the 32 NFL head coaches Monday, and Gruden came in at No. 15.

Here's what Harrison had to say about Chucky:

"As [Gruden] shipped out star players and cut ties with front office execs he didn't want in Oakland last year, the Raiders managed just four wins. That's why '19 should be the tell on what kind of coach he is going forward. New GM Mike Mayock helped Gruden begin to rebuild the roster after stockpiling picks, providing an infusion of talent that should at least make this team more competitive. Given the strength of the division-rival Chargers and Chiefs, simply leading Oakland to the playoffs should be a ringing endorsement for the coach."

[RELATED: Raiders given 20th best outlook in future power rankings]

Indeed, if they make the playoffs this coming season, that's an undeniable success for Gruden and the Raiders in their final season in Oakland -- one that would be worthy of Gruden ascending on next year's coaching rankings. But, as Harrison suggests, it's not going to be easy.