The 49ers are one of pro football’s elite teams right now, certainly a strong playoff contender. The Raiders are an NFL outlier, stuck in a state of seemingly perpetual rebuilding.
We can all agree on that, right?
So why, as we stand on the brink of the 2014 regular season, do 49ers fans seem so glum? And why are Raiders fans so optimistic?
Expectations are a funny thing, aren’t they?
Three consecutive years in the NFL championship game do a lot for a team. A sustained run like that brings national credibility and attention, sells tickets at name-your-price and makes your team an attractive destination for free agents. It also raises the expectations of your fan base, perhaps to unreasonable levels.
The 49ers are a very good team. But due to injuries and off-the-field bad behavior, they might not be quite as good as they were a year ago, or two weeks ago. The defense is staggering a bit after losing NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Glenn Dorsey for significant portions of the seasons – Ray McDonald may be next – and the team’s preseason performance was lackluster.
The news regarding Smith and McDonald came at a particularly difficult time. Instead of heading into the season under a full head of steam, the 49ers are proceeding warily. And that lack of momentum is reflected in social media. Niner Fan isn’t exactly changing his avatar to a white flag and yelling “WE SUCK!” but his cheers seem a bit muted right now – while the hated “12th Man” of the Northwest is blowing into a noisemaker and dancing in a conga line like a damned fool.
Meanwhile, across the bay, Raider Fan is rejuvenated. Oakland’s offensive line is patchy, its running backs a little old, its receivers a little young, its defense a massive roulette wheel of possibilities (most of them bad).
But all of that has been whitewashed by one fact: Raiders backers wanted the rookie quarterback to start, and they got their wish.
I suspect not even the Kool-Aid-drinkingest Raiders dude expects that Derek Carr’s presence under center will elevate this team to 10-6, or even 8-8. But it’s enough to qualify as a ray of sunshine among a subculture that has been battered and humiliated for more than a decade. The Black Hole booed Matt Schaub, management listened and the mood on Raiders subreddits and Twitter feeds is trending upward.
And yeah, if the 49ers start 2-0 and the Raiders begin 0-2, the feelings will be reversed. For a few days, though, if you cover one eye with a patch, it sort of looks like the Bay Area’s football teams are headed in different directions.