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NFL football is about to arrive in the Bay Area, or as the sports people say, "It's gonna get real exciting footballwise around here."

In that spirit, I am writing an essay — essaywise — about our two NFL entrants and what to expect from them. I am talking about the Raiders and 49ers, as different as teams can be.

<b>RAIDERSWISE:</b> The Raiders have an infinite number of issues and that means we could discuss them until the end of time. In the interest of sensible time management, here are a few whoppers, starting with the small and manageable.

The Raiders must determine if running back Darren McFadden, allegedly a difference maker on the field, really is worth the trouble.

He's as fragile as a crystal goblet and he misses games by the ton. Last season, he didn't run well and everyone blamed the blocking schemes of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, now former offensive coordinator. And that may or may not be fair.

McFadden needs to prove he can run behind the new blocking scheme, specifically designed to feature his skills. Because he almost didn't play in the preseason, no one has a clue about him. I guess we're asking if he's a keeper.

Terrelle Pryor has been anointed starting quarterback. He beat out Matt Flynn, who performed his usual routine — came to training camp as the No.1 guy and promptly helped demote himself to backup.

So, do the Raiders have the quarterback of the future on their roster? And that also includes Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson, who just executed a 360 off the team and back to the practice squad. The mind reels.

If none of these guys is The Guy, the Raiders will have to start over yet again. I guess we're asking if any of these QBs is a keeper.

The Raiders have been known NOT to stop the run. Last season, they had laissez-faire "run stoppers" like Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. They must show they can tackle a running back.

If they can't, it makes you wonder about head coach Dennis Allen, a defensive specialist. He has not made his mark on this team, and this season he must make his mark. And that goes double for defense. I guess we're asking if Allen is a keeper.

And now for the big one. We don't expect the Raiders to win many games. Four wins would represent a lollapalooza. But there are losses and then there are losses. The Raiders need good losses.

No, amend that. There are no good losses. But the Raiders need to have better losses. They need to compete. They need to play better than they did last season when they lose. I guess we're asking if the Raiders are a keeper.

<b>FORTY-NINERSWISE:</b> Many pundits have proclaimed the 49ers the best football team on the planet. Sports Illustrated, a big pundit, ranks the 49ers first in the NFC although, curiously, SI has them losing to Seattle in the NFC championship game.

The 49ers surely are an elite team with a potentially great quarterback and a highly successful, innovative head coach. They are a Super Bowl contender and they should do brilliantly this season, may go to the Super Bowl, may even win the Super Bowl. That's how extraordinary they are, especially with that pistol, option-read offense that has the entire league all atwitter.

It's just that there are multiple story lines in the Niners' story, and every good story line involves conflict and suspense. And the 49ers have plenty of both.

For starters, the 49ers are hurt — physically injured — something we have not seen under Jim Harbaugh's stewardship. You know the list: Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Chris Culliver. Justin Smith, the anchor of the defense, is coming back from a serious injury. And they lost Dashon Goldson. It may be difficult for the 49ers to play up to last season's level, and it may be wishful thinking to expect they can.

They have a difficult schedule, much harder than last season's. Their first five games are against Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Houston. A sadist came up with this schedule. It is hard to imagine the 49ers winning all five, although it could happen.

And although going into last season the Niners were clearly the best team in the NFC, that's no longer the case. Things are a bit smudged from their point of view. The Seahawks ran them out of Seattle late last season. The 49ers could not beat the Rams. And the Cardinals, once a pushover, aren't a pushover anymore, as strange as that sounds. They still have all-time-great receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and now they have Carson "Bombs Away" Palmer to throw Fitzgerald the ball.

The NFC West is the NFL's killer division, and the Niners will take some bruises playing in it — they also will give some bruises.

Let's speak hypothetically for a moment. Let's say things don't come together for the 49ers. Remember, this is hypothetical. Well, how does Harbaugh react? He's always taken steps forward as a coach, never took a backward step. He always moves ahead to cheers and acclaim.

The next logical step is to win the Super Bowl, something he came close to doing last season. But if things don't come together, can Harbaugh keep the team playing hard? Can he keep the players on his side? Can he keep himself rational?

If the Niners go 8-8 or something like that, you wonder if he'll be found in a chair somewhere rolling those steel balls a la Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny." You wonder if he'll blame the media for bullying him as he blamed the media for bullying A.J. Jenkins.

But that's all hypothetical. Starting Sunday, this season no longer is hypothetical. It's for real. The 49ers and Raiders will write two entirely different books. Both should be a hell of a read.

<i>For more on the world of sports<NO1> in general and the Bay Area in particular<NO>, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.</i>