The Oakland Raiders have raised expectations, but raising their level of play will be tougher.
After a 5-11 season that left the silver-and-black Raiders with a black eye, the franchise led the National Football League in bold off-season moves. The team traded for receiver Randy Moss, acquired running back LaMont Jordan as a free agent, dealt the unhappy cornerback Phillip Buchanon to Houston and made major changes to the defense.
Wide receiver Randy Moss brings a constant scoring threat to the Raiders and poses matchup problems for defenses.
The Raiders have high hopes for the combination of quarterback Kerry Collins and Moss. Coach Norv Turner says the team has the veterans in place to win. It is too early to tell if the revamped Raiders will jell, but it is obvious that they will not be boring. With outspoken veterans like Moss, defensive lineman Warren Sapp and cornerback Charles Woodson, this team figures to be loud, brash and in the rebellious tradition of the old Raiders.
"Give me Randy Moss," said Jordan, the former Jets running back, in a recent interview. "He's going to show his emotions when things aren't going well. He's going to show his emotions when things are going well. Give me those guys.
"Don't give me a guy, when things are going well, they're going to shrug their shoulders. They're not the kind of guy I want to go to war with. I want to go to war with a guy that when I look in his eyes, and I look at him every day, I see he has a passion for winning."
But will the Raiders win?
They will get their first test when they open the season on the road Thursday against the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions. The league is showcasing the Raiders this season more than it usually does a team coming off a losing season, with Oakland also playing nationally televised night games against Kansas City, San Diego and the Giants.
There is no denying the Raiders' potential to have a highlight-reel offense. With Moss and Jerry Porter, the Raiders have a big-play receiving combination. And the veteran quarterback Kerry Collins is adept at throwing the ball deep.
The running game should also improve, with Jordan getting his chance to be a featured back after showing flashes of his ability while backing up Curtis Martin with the Jets.
"In New York, I was playing behind a future Hall of Famer," Jordan said. "I got frustrated at times, but it wasn't so much because I wanted my turn to shine. It's just that when things weren't going well, I felt like I could contribute. Now, I finally get to play football. I'm excited about it. I know I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but I accept the pressure."
No matter how impressive the Raiders are on offense, the season will turn on the performance of their defense.
Among the 32 N.F.L. teams, Oakland ranked 30th in total defense last season and 31st in points a game allowed. The Raiders gave up an average of 371 yards a game, and they were next to last in sacks, with 25.
The Raiders are expected to have at least five new defensive starters: end Tommy Kelly, linebacker/lineman Grant Irons, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and safeties Derrick Gibson and Stuart Schweigert. Veterans like safety Ray Buchanan and defensive tackle John Parrella were not re-signed, and the former starting linebacker Napoleon Harris was dealt to Minnesota in the Moss deal.
This year's defense is expected to be quicker and more aggressive, playing under the second-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who spent four seasons as an assistant with Bill Belichick in New England.
"You can turn things around pretty quickly in this league if you play together and guys stay healthy," Coach Norv Turner said. "It's been proven. A lot has been made of the changes we made, but we have a lot of players who were already here, who have been in this system, who will be counted on to play a big part. I'm optimistic about what we can do."
The Raiders did not show much during the preseason, giving limited time to the starters and revealing little of what they plan to do offensively.
But Collins has looked sharp. Against Arizona, he connected with Moss on a 40-yard touchdown play. They hooked up for a 27-yard touchdown against the Saints last Thursday.
Moss's teammates sense that he will be motivated to prove that Minnesota made a mistake in trading him. And the attention he draws from defenders figures to create opportunities for others.
"He changes the course of the game," Jordan said. "Teams may decide, 'Hey, let's not let the Raiders beat us passing the ball.' I've played against eight-man fronts my entire life. I'm looking forward to playing against seven-man fronts."
Teams looked forward to playing the Raiders last season, as they finished in the basement of the American Football Conference West.
After the splash Oakland made with its personnel changes, another losing campaign would be a huge disappointment and would undoubtedly lead to more upheaval.
But at least the Raiders will begin the season with a swagger, hoping that it translates into a turnaround.