One one play away — one bad call away, their ardent fans might say — from winning the Super Bowl last February. Many prognosticators (including the ones who count, in Las Vegas) expect them to make a return trip to the big game this season. The Raiders, meanwhile, remain stuck on the NFL's bottom rung. Coming off a 4-12 season, they showed few signs of improvement in the preseason.

On the surface, the Bay Area's two pro football teams are neighbors with nothing in common. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll spot some similar themes as our local squads prepare for NFL opening weekend.


A decade of losing: Remember when Oakland represented the AFC in Super Bowl XXXVII? Neither do we. Since that one-sided loss to Tampa Bay, the Raiders have stumbled and limped through 10 consecutive non-winning seasons. (They went 8-8 in 2010 and 2011.) It's the longest current streak of ineptitude in the NFL, one year longer than the St. Louis Rams'.

Given that culture of losing, even the most optimistic citizens of Raider Nation have a hard time envisioning their team having a breakout season in 2013.

The Super Bowl curse: It seems like a perfectly natural progression. A team loses the Super Bowl, makes a few tweaks and comes back to win it all the next year. The Dallas Cowboys did it 1971, and the team they beat to get there, the Miami Dolphins, did it in 1972. Since then ... well, not so much.

Forty Super Bowl losers have come and gone, without one of them hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy the following year. Is it the crushing emotions of a Super Bowl loss that feeds this trend? Is it NFL parity? Is it the fault of the Buffalo Bills? Hard to say, but whatever the reason, history argues against the 49ers taking that final step in February.

<cf103>WEEK 2 SHOWDOWNS</cf>

<CF103>49ers at Seahawks:</CF> Welcome to the best rivalry in the NFL right now. The coaches don't like one another. The games are physical and hard-fought. And Seattle and San Francisco just might be the two best teams in the league. The twice-annual slugfest resumes with a prime-time game at raucous CenturyLink Field on Sept. 15.

<CF103>Jaguars at Raiders: </CF>At the other end of the spectrum you have this clunker at Oakland. While it may lack in marquee talent, though, it very well might determine the worst team in the NFL. In other words, this could be a loser-take-all battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Teddy Bridgewater, anybody?


<MC><CF103>Raiders'</CF> Dennis Allen: Gone are the days when an NFL head coach gets a few years to turn around his team. "Patience" is not part of the lexicon in this league. The Raiders were bad last year; there is no way around it. And Allen had no track record as a head coach before he came to Oakland. In fact, he had just one season as a defensive coordinator. If the Raiders don't make significant progress in 2013 — anything worse than 7-9 would seem to be the kiss of death — it's hard to imagine general manager Reggie McKenzie bringing Allen back for Year 3.

<CF103>49ers' Brad Seely:</CF> The Niners' excellence has been broad-based during their two years under Jim Harbaugh. If there has been an Achilles' heel, it is the San Francisco special teams. Make no mistake, Seely's units have done quite well in some categories, including both sides of the punting equation. But the 49ers were 31st in the league in kickoff coverage last year, allowing 26.9 yards per return — only the Raiders were worse — and kicker David Akers was a disaster.

More to the point, big special-teams gaffes have been the Niners' undoing in the postseason. A 108-yard kickoff return by Baltimore's Jacoby Jones was the difference in Super Bowl XXXVII, and Kyle Williams' fumbled punt doomed San Francisco in the NFC championship game the previous year. If the 49ers' 2013 postseason run ends with, say, a blocked field goal, there will be calls for Seely's job.


<CF103>49ers safety Eric Reid:</CF> The 49ers have a tradition of stellar safety play, from Dwight Hicks to Ronnie Lott to Tim McDonald and beyond. Ready to accept the mantle, the team hopes, is rookie Eric Reid, a hard-hitting first-round draft choice from LSU. Reid replaces Dashon Goldson at free safety, and will start the opener opposite Donte Whitner.

<CF103>Raiders linebacker Sio Moore: </CF>The jury is out on Moore, a third-round draft choice from Connecticut. But he started at strongside linebacker throughout the preseason, and is entrenched at the position heading into Week 1. Moore can get pushed around a bit, but his speed should help the Raiders' pass rush, an area that has been desperately lacking in recent years.


<CF103>Raiders' Charles Woodson:</CF> Oakland fans never really forgot Woodson during his seven years in Green Bay, a highly successful stint that included four Pro Bowl nods, an NFL defensive player of the year award and a Super Bowl championship. Woodson is back at the age of 36. He doesn't have the speed to play cornerback now, so he'll line up at free safety. The Raiders are hoping the popular athlete has enough savvy and big-play ability to guide a young secondary.

<CF103>49ers' Nnamdi Asomugha:</CF> He's on the other side of the water now, but Asomugha is another former Raiders star trying to squeeze some life out of his career in the Bay Area. He was considered one of the top three cornerbacks in the NFL when he left for Philadelphia in 2011, but his time with the Eagles was a disaster. He had to battle for a roster spot with the 49ers, and was ultimately helped by a serious injury to Chris Culliver. Asomugha, 32, opens the season as the 49ers' third corner, which means he'll probably play a lot of downs.



<CF103>49ers' Michael Crabtree: </CF>His 2013 season — 85 catches, 1,105 yards, nine touchdowns — has been called a breakthrough, but really it was just the next step for a wide receiver who has improved each year as a pro. Big things were expected of Crabtree in 2013, until he tore his Achilles' tendon in May. He is currently on the 49ers' physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he can't practice or play over the first six weeks of the season.

The optimistic outlook has Crabtree looking to return sometime after Week 10. Until then, Colin Kaepernick will have to find a new favorite target.

<CF103>Raiders' Jared Veldheer: </CF>The Raiders took a hit where they could least afford it when Veldheer, their up-and-coming left tackle, partially tore his triceps during a training-camp practice. He remains on the active roster, but is certain to miss several weeks of action. The situation is so dire up front for the Raiders that it looks like they will tab rookie Menelik Watson — who played just two years of college football, and just one at a four-year school — to replace Veldheer.

<cf103>POSITION IN FLUX</cf>

<CF103>Raiders quarterback:</CF> Just a few days before the season opener, Allen had yet to name a starting quarterback. Perhaps he was looking for a competitive edge against the Colts. It's also true that the coach didn't have a clear No. 1 option.

Matt Flynn, acquired from Seattle in an offseason trade, failed to distinguish himself during camps and preseason games, allowing Terrelle Pryor to join the competition. But Pryor has little experience, and has been highly uneven in his own appearances. Safe to say that Raiders QBs aren't flying off the board in fantasy football drafts.

<CF103>49ers wide receivers: </CF> The Niners expected to finally have a strong one-two punch at receiver (if not a ton of speed) when they traded for Anquan Boldin. But with Crabtree out, it isn't clear who will get most of the snaps. Candidates include Marlon Moore, Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams and perhaps Jonathan Baldwin, another trade acquisition (from Kansas City).

<cf103>You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.</cf>