Even the historic franchise’s most bitter rivals must admit that the NFL is better when the Oakland Raiders are good. Maybe it’s the history of badasses or just the old cliche that bad guys wear black, but the Raiders play the villain better than just about any franchise in the NFL. Unfortunately, with the exception of a questionable 2016 season, the Raiders haven’t been good for a long time.
However, with the additions of Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, and a pretty solid draft class, Raider Nation has reason to believe the 2019 version of the team will be vastly superior to previous years, or at the very least, the 2018 team. However, I do think they should temper their expectations just a little bit.
Realistic Expectations for the 2019 Oakland Raiders
Hard Knock Life
This is a bit of disclaimer, but I don’t think Hard Knocks will actually make a significant impact on the success of the Raiders this season. I’ve written more about it here (click the link), and even about the history of teams that have been on the show before (seriously, click here), and while it is a distraction, it’s hardly Oakland’s biggest problem this year.
The Worst Schedule
There’s this idea that by struggling in one season, your schedule the following year will be easier. This is because in addition to a predetermined NFC and AFC division, as well as your divisional opponents, you would play the team that finished with the same divisional rank as you in the remaining divisions in your conference. So if you finished in dead last, like the Raiders did in 2018, you’ll play at least two other last place teams.
However, it never really seems to work out that way for the Raiders. Despite only winning four games in 2018, the Raiders have the NFL’s toughest schedule based on win percentage (.539% in 2018). Ironically, the defending Super Bowl champions, Tom Brady‘s New England Patriots, have one of the easiest (.473%). Why is that? Well… partially because this formula is broken, and partially because while the Patriots dominate the NFL’s worst division, the Raiders aren’t so lucky.
The AFC Best
The AFC West is one of the tougher divisions in the entire NFL. The Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs are both playoff favorites and the Denver Broncos added a pair of passers (Joe Flacco and Drew Lock) to balance out their incredible defense. Six of Oakland’s sixteen regular season games will be against divisional opponents. The Raiders don’t get cupcake games against the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans twice a year, they have to contend with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Von Miller in over a third of their games.
That’s not to say the Raiders can’t win some of, or hypothetically, even all of those games. The Raiders swept the AFC West in 2010, after all. But the harder the schedule, the less likely it is that the Raiders will win a ton of games.
This is arguably the biggest worry I have about this year’s Raiders team. The Oakland Raiders have to travel more than any other team in the NFL this season, and it’s not particularly close. The Silver and Black have to travel 32,023 miles this season. The travel is so bad that the
idiot person in charge of making the schedule admitted he dropped the ball.
For scale, the New York Jets travel 6,794 miles all season. It takes the four combined distances of the shortest travel schedules to surpass what the Raiders have to do this year. 21 of the 32 teams don’t even break 20,000, let alone 30,000. And as if the distance wasn’t bad enough, the way the schedule is built is even worse.
On September 15th, the Raiders will host Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in week two. They won’t play another game in Oakland at the Coliseum (in what is, I remind you, the last season in Oakland) until November third, when they host Matthew Stafford‘s Detroit Lions in week nine.
They go to Minnesota, to Indianapolis, to London, where they “host” Khalil Mack‘s Chicago Bears, there’s a bye, and then they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers before ending the never-ending road trip from Hell in Houston against the Texans.
The good news is that anyone on the Raiders this year will rack up some serious frequent flyer miles for their post-NFL careers, assuming they ever want to travel again. The bad news is traveling this much is horrible for teams, just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have one exactly one game when traveling over 2,000 miles since 2000.
Coaching With Direct TV, Coaching With Cable
The “yeah, but” crowd is going to reference how explosive offense carried the overrated 2016 team past a myriad of divisive issues, and to a point, they’re right. As we saw with last year’s Kansas City team, an explosive offense can cover up a notoriously bad defense, and on paper, the Raiders look like they can put up some points.
Derek Carr is seriously underrated and has overcome more adversity than his critics give him credit for. Last year, his offensive line fed him to the wolves while he was forcing passes to the likes of Marcell Ateman and Seth Roberts. How did he respond? With career highs in completion percentage, yards, and yards per attempt.
Carr has weapons galore now with the additions of Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant, Hunter Renfrow, and Josh Jacobs on offense, and the line should be improved too! The fantastic Rodney Hudson, a beefy Gabe Jackson and a healthy, stronger Kolton Miller being joined by Trent Brown and Richie Incognito.
However, there’s one glaring question mark when it comes to the Raiders offense, and that’s Tom Cable. Tom Cable’s career has been… interesting, to be polite, and ask any Raiders fan, he didn’t impress with his offensive line last year. It doesn’t matter how talented the line is as a unit if Cable’s coaching can’t create holes for the backs or protection for Carr.
The Quarterback Must Go Down, and He Must Go Down Hard
I’m a big fan of the Clelin Ferrell pick, and I’m really excited about Maurice Hurst’s second year, but I still just don’t know where the pass rush is going to come from. As I’ve established before, it’s not easy for rookies to make an immediate impact as pass rushers. Arden Key has supposedly put on muscle, and Maxx Crosby is an early fan favorite, but this team is lacking a proven veteran that can get six or seven sacks for this squad.
I’m really excited about Oakland’s secondary this year. Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley came into their own late last season, Lamarcus Joyner‘s versatility is going to make him so much fun to watch, and Johnathan Abram is my favorite rookie. But if you’re not consistently getting pressure, you’re making life very difficult for your secondary.
This year, the Raiders play against Patrick Mahomes (twice), Philip Rivers (twice), Kirk Cousins, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford, and Sam Darnold. If they can’t find a way to rush the passer, they will give up a lot of points and spoilers, the team with the most points at the end of regulation usually wins.
I’ll be honest guys, I don’t think the Oakland Raiders are a playoff team in 2019. I’d be ecstatic if the team had a winning record, but with everything stacked against them, with such a young team, it’s hard to imagine them doing extremely well. However, here’s what I think we should expect.
I think we’ll see the Raiders compete in a lot of their games. I think that Derek Carr is primed to have a great year, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to hope Josh Jacobs is utilized well enough to be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. The Raiders have the talent to win somewhere between five and eight games, and I think we would have to consider that a great success.
And then, it’ll be 2020. The young Raiders will have a full year under their belt, the team has two first round picks again next season, and a shiny new stadium in Las Vegas, which at the very least, won’t send us to London or Mexico and is much, much closer to the middle of the country.
But what do you think? Am I just a Raider hater with an axe to grind? Do you think the Raiders might be even worse than I’m anticipating? How many touchdowns would Derek Carr have to throw to carry this team? Lemme know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk (I’m just kidding, it’s @RyanSmithNFL).