October 16, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

A Healthy Darren McFadden Guarantees AFC West Crown

Mark it down. Remember this date. I’m calling my shot…on one condition.

IF Darren McFadden stays healthy for all of 2012 then the Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West.

Yeah, not exactly a bold statement when it begins with the dirty if word. But it’s not a reach when you consider how close the Raiders have been the last two years with only a side serving of Run DMC. Imagine what they’d look like with a full helping. He’d be the league’s leading rusher and possibly biggest producer of total yards from scrimmage with a full 16 games.

Carson Palmer doesn’t have to be great. With Jason Campbell being average the Raiders went from hopeless to in contention almost every Sunday. Anything was an upgrade over #2, we know this. But you can’t ignore McFadden’s breakout coming at the same time things improved in Oakland.

Keep in mind the Raiders haven’t had a good defense either. Funny thing is when McFadden is playing the defense is good enough to keep them in the game. Without McFadden the D becomes softer than Clay Aiken at an album cover shoot.

Not saying a homerun threat like McFadden can erase a bad defense. I’m still trying to forget what happened in Jacksonville. But I’ll take my chances in any contest with a weapon that can turn the tide with one touch.

Beyond his talent, he’s also a valued asset for all the other things he does. As a receiver, blocker, decoy and let’s not forget hard worker, McFadden is in that Walter Payton type mold. Not saying he is Payton, just that there is that all-around feel to his game that reminds you of Sweetness.

Darren McFadden is that type of player. MVP level talent with an old school approach.

Despite all of his injury issues, McFadden has avoided any major surgeries too. Keep that in mind. A lot of what he’s suffered has been of the freakish variety. Things that just can happen when you play a brutal sport.

But…here comes the but…

He does have a history of foot problems. That’s a warning sign too big to ignore for a running back. His latest was a condition that caused Matt Schaub to get surgery. McFadden and the Raiders didn’t choose the knife instead opting for rest and rehab. Kelly Skipper has coached him up for years now and he’s already saying McFadden is making cuts at full speed in May. So perhaps the no-surgery approach was best.

We’ll have to wait and see.

Getting back my not-so-bold proclamation of Oakland taking the AFC West back. Let’s be honest about this division. It’s just one big collection of good talent, good coaching and overall average teams.

The San Diego Chargers are Super Bowl champs in July and at home watching the playoffs in January. Get ready for the next round of hype when the football news dies down in the coming months.

Kansas City has teased its fans with some flashes of brilliance then followed that up with worse showings than the 0-16 Lions. They’re trendy right now too but don’t overlook the fact that they’re starting all over again with a new head coach, same as Oakland.

Change is constant in the AFC West so the deck keeps getting shuffled.

Denver is the no-brainer to most. As in you’ve got no brain if you’re picking them just because of Peyton Manning. He hasn’t played in a year and last time he did it’s not like the Colts ran through the league with ease. Plus, let’s be honest, nobody knows how this dude will respond when he takes a hit at game-speed. Don’t act as if this isn’t a gamble by the Broncos cause it is.

That brings me back to McFadden. He’s in his prime much like LaDainian Tomlinson who pushed the Chargers to the top of the AFC West in past years. Forget all that copy-cat talk of the NFL being a passing league. A dominant running back is the greatest luxury there is in football. They’re just few and far between with a short shelf life so when you get one you’ve got to take advantage.

Which brings me back to that dirty if word.

All running backs take punishment so injury is expected. Being able to manage pain versus injury is as old as the game itself. Nobody doubts McFadden’s toughness which means his injuries are serious enough that he just can’t play even if he wanted to. That is concerning cause we know he routinely plays through pain like all true professionals do.

So…if McFadden can stay healthy for 16 games I’m calling the AFC West crown right here, right now for the Oakland Raiders.

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Tags: AFC West Carson Palmer Darren McFadden Jason Campbell Kelly Skipper LaDainian Tomlinson Matt Schaub Peyton Manning Walter Payton

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