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Key Matchups To Watch: Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints


Offseason Workout Program? Check.

Training Camp? Check.

Preseason? Check.

Starting Sunday, meaningful football is back for the Oakland Raiders. The stats are official, the results count, and the Silver and Black will begin their march to the postseason on the road Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints present some inherent similarities to the Raiders; both squads are captained by Pro Bowl quarterbacks, and both ended the 2015 season with an overall record of 7-9.

Emotions and excitement always run high Week 1, so let's highlight three matchups that will be crucial in determining the outcome of Sunday's battle with the Saints.

Quarterback Derek Carr vs. Quarterback Drew Brees

Make no mistake about it, both the Raiders and Saints will go as far as their quarterbacks will take them in 2016.

Carr enjoyed a breakout season in 2015, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, and earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl, while Brees delivered yet another impressive campaign in what could be a Hall of Fame career, as the Saints led the NFL with 310.6 passing yards per game.

Now as the teams prepare to kick off 2016, the team's signal callers will be locked in and ready to start the new season on a high note.

Sunday's matchups has all the telltale signs of an offensive shootout – franchise players under center, talented athletes out wide,  and an environment where points can come in bunches – so whichever quarterback can deliver the more impressive day will likely see his team come out on top.

Now the game's result doesn't rest solely on the right arms of Carr or Brees, but their respective performances will play a big role in the end result at the Superdome Sunday afternoon.

Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave vs. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen

When the Raiders take the field Sunday, they'll see a familiar face on the opposing sideline, as former head coach Dennis Allen is now the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.

Allen was the head coach for the Silver and Black for just over two years from 2012-14, tallying an 8-28 record during his 36 games as a Raider.

Last season, Allen reunited with his old pal Sean Payton back in New Orleans, and now he's serving as the defensive coordinator for the Saints. As the team prepares to take on the Saints, Carr knows he and the offense will have their hands full will the schemes that Allen is set to present.

"As a coach, he's very smart," Carr said of his former head coach. "He's obviously going to bring some exotic stuff and all those things. You try and prepare for things that maybe he hasn't even shown. I know him, he loves his defense. It's his baby. I know that he'll try and maybe do some unscouted looks, you never know."

Allen and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will play a game of schematic chess between the hash marks all afternoon at the Superdome, and in a good, old-fashioned battle between offense and defense, one man will exit victorious.

Cornerback Sean Smith vs. Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks

As I said earlier, the Saints led the NFL in passing offense last season, and Brees' favorite weapon outside was wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

Cooks enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015, more than doubling his production from his rookie season, finishing his sophomore campaign with 1,138 receiving yards, nine touchdowns, and establishing himself as the top weapon for Brees and the Saints offense.

The versatile wide receiver likes to operate from a variety of positions at the line of scrimmage, but cornerback Sean Smith will likely receive a lot of the one-on-one action against Cooks Sunday.

Smith will no question have the size advantage on the 5'10" Cooks, and if the veteran cornerback is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage, it could spell a long day for Cooks and the Saints.

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