Last year’s pain needs to be this year’s growth
The Raiders finished last season with a losing 6-10 record. They start this season fourth in the AFC West, behind the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos.
Head coach Jon Gruden joins the Raiders at the helm after several years of sportscasting for ESPN. He joined the team in time for the draft pick, and this season will tell whether his early-years coaching success (Super Bowl XXXVII win with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in case you missed it) has stayed with him.
For a team that needs to build a noteworthy roster, the biggest change we can anticipate this season is in the defense. As fans anxiously await (and hungry teams drool) the outcome of the team’s negotiations with TE Khalil Mack, the roster has to bulk up, massively, if Mack doesn’t return.
Roster shake-ups, still questions
Let’s talk about Mack. He is a team-leading defensive player. His absence in the preseason during contract negotiations is disappointing. He will leave a big hole on the roster if the Raiders can’t secure him. And, Gruden will have his work more than cut out for him if the defense loses him.
Another change from last year is who will step up as backup quarterback? Preseason looks at Connor Cook and EJ Manuel don’t show a lot of promise. It is possible the team looks outward.
The Raiders have already shown some chutzpah, trading 5th-round draft pick WR Ryan Switzer to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This leaves us believing newly acquired Dwayne Harris will pick up some openings in the receiver world. Coach Gruden has already named him as the team’s kick and punt returner. He will be a core player, and the offense can use his versatility and special teams prowess.
Also new to the roster is rookie Kolton Miller, who hails from UCLA. He will start Week 1 as the Raider’s left tackle. We still need to see how some other core defense spots fill up.
Who fits the bill
Even if their roster packed a few more stars, this still wouldn’t be their year.
If QB Derek Carr returns this season healthier and more like his 2016 self, we should see some action this season. This team will look better if it can move its offense forward. WR Amari Cooper could make great plays, but he is underutilized by mere fact that he can outperform Carr.
Watch out for the newly signed CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose NFL tenure had him placed with the Broncos, Eagles, and Giants. Coach Gruden likes his versatility, and spoke of placing him in the cornerback and nickel positions.
On a lighter note, keep your eyes on Kolton Miller. He has what it takes to be an NFL star player.
The Raiders sit in a tough spot with both the Chargers and Chiefs in their conference. Even if their roster packed a few more stars, this still wouldn’t be their year. The Raiders will be far behind those Bolts.
Below is the Raiders’ schedule for 2018:
Week 1: Sept. 10 vs. Los Angeles Rams
Even though preseason isn’t much of a predictor for the season, the last two preseason games had the Rams ahead. They are a better team, and it shows.
Week 2: Sept. 16 at Denver Broncos
Surprisingly, these teams traded wins last season. I don’t see the Raiders finding the same luck this year with QB Case Keenum now leading the Broncos’ offense.
Week 3: Sept. 23 at Miami Dolphins*
Last fall, the Raiders squeaked in a win by a field goal margin. This year, the win carries a little more of a punch.
Week 4: Sept. 30 vs. Cleveland Browns*
The last time these teams saw each other was in 2015, so all bets are on. Well, except the Raiders are a better team this year.
Week 5: Oct. 7 at Los Angeles Chargers
The Raiders fell to the Chargers in both 2017 season games, letting it hurt with a 20-point loss on December 31, 2017. We aren’t recovering here.
Week 6: Oct. 14 vs. Seattle Seahawks
These teams faced off annually for the last three years, with the Seahawks on top. Don’t expect a blowout, but the result is the same here.
Week 7: Bye Week
Week 8: Oct. 28 vs. Indianapolis Colts*
It seems sad to accept that the Colts are past their heyday. That’s it.
Week 9: Nov. 1 at San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ passing game easily gets by the Raiders’ soft defense.
Week 10: Nov. 11 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
No luck against the Chargers this season, just like in 2017.
Week 11: Nov. 18 at Arizona Cardinals
In the last three matches, all preseason, these teams swapped wins with the Cardinals ahead. Not much stock in that pot to continue the pattern.
Week 12: Nov. 25 at Baltimore Ravens*
The Raiders took a beating in last season’s face-off. They take a stand, and make up for it.
Week 14: Dec. 9 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It just isn’t happening Raiders fans.
Week 15: Dec. 16 at Cincinnati Bengals*
Even home field advantage doesn’t help the Bengals.
Week 16: Dec. 24 vs. Denver Broncos
Once again, we need to go all the way to 2015 to see this pairing. So, let’s skip it and look at stats. The Ravens’ defense just won’t stop Rivers.
Week 17: Dec. 30 at Kansas City Chiefs
Home field advantage, and just better.