The Las Vegas Raiders are just days away from kicking off their 2020 season.
I’ll be the first to admit the (now) Las Vegas Raiders are a very hard team for me to get a read on because they’re so all over the place yet surprisingly cohesive at the exact same time.
I’ve had many a question about certain moves the Raiders’ front office has made, particularly those of Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock as they pertain to the past two seasons.
We’re talking about certain drafting choices, free agency signings (Antonio Brown), and marquee trades that have gone down (Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper). But at the same time, have any of these choices broken the franchise yet?
Khalil Mack is one of the top pass rushers in the game, but in trading him, the Raiders drafted Josh Jacobs who’s probably going to be one of the league’s top rushers in 2020 after the huge rookie season he had.
Trading Mack hasn’t yet collapsed the Raiders’ foundation nor has trading Amari Cooper, one of the league’s most pristine route runners.
Like so many others, I couldn’t help but scratch my head at the moves Jon Gruden was making once he came aboard as head coach. But as hindsight is always 20-20, the moves he has made haven’t destroyed this team like I and so many of you thought they might.
Damon Arnette in the first round? Henry Ruggs over Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and the stacked class of wide receivers?
As much as I want to say “What the hell are you doing?,” what the Raiders have done in the past two seasons with their roster turnover is proof that you shouldn’t jump too quickly to criticize.
What the Raiders have going is working. I can’t believe it’s working, but it is.
Gruden and Mayock have rebooted an already-dominant offensive line to be even more dominant.
The group of Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson quietly transitioned to Osemele and Penn leaving and the Raiders bringing in the group of Trent Brown and Richie Incognito and drafting Kolton Miller at left tackle.
The Raiders facilitated one of the best running backs in the league last year in Josh Jacobs to post a thousand-yard season in just 13 games while also letting up just 29 sacks of Derek Carr.
They were just outside the top-10 in rushing yards per game in 2019 (118.3), but conventional wisdom would suggest they’re very likely to improve on that in 2020 and may even wind up a top-five rushing offense in the league.
Gruden and Mayock have prepared themselves for a divisional battle with the Kansas City Chiefs in trying to match speed for speed — Tyreek Hill for Henry Ruggs — while also building a multifaceted group of receivers with a wide range of usage.
From Hunter Renfrow in the slot to the physicality of Tyrell Williams (granted, he’s now on IR) and Bryan Edwards, to Darren Waller found out of obscurity at 27-years-old going for a thousand yards in 2019 as a tight end/wide receiver hybrid, the Raiders, though still young, appear to have one of the most versatile groups of weapons in the entire league.
Defensively, though still with much room to improve, Gruden and Mayock found Maxx Crosby in the fourth round who went for 10 sacks in just 10 starts at defensive end.
Maurice Hurst had a serious heart condition coming into the NFL and that seems to be a thing of the past as Hurst has played two full years without incident while also posting 7.5 sacks.
The mark of an organization that is running smoothly is not just if they win or not, it’s how that organization can make something out of nothing; how it can find and develop players to make them better.
The Raiders have done a fantastic job at that these past couple of seasons, and I would be crazy to believe that trend won’t continue.
What the Raiders have going works for some odd reason. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what they’re going to do this year.
For my money, this team should be pretty dynamic on offense with a few more kinks to iron out on the defensive side, though Johnathan Abram coming back and the additions of Cory Littleton to the linebacking corps are going to be major boosts.
Not to mention how well Erik Harris played last year, and now with the return of Abram, Lamarcus Joyner will be able to play more of a nickel position this year where his strength is.
I worry about the quarterback situation, both because of Derek Carr’s play which seems to go in a pattern of one good year followed by a down year, and also because the feeling is that in bringing in Marcus Mariota, the team is ready to potentially move on from Carr this season.
We’ll have to see how the defense plays this year, but we can’t ignore the fact that the secondary is ripe to be picked apart on a weekly basis as one of the worst pass defenses in football last year (and seemingly every year).
The Raiders are going to need a big performance out of their defense in 2020 if they want to get to the playoffs. I’m not sure, even with the additions they made this offseason, that they’re quite where they need to be on that side of the ball.
I worry about if this team can stop anybody or not and I worry about what kind of Derek Carr we’re going to see in 2020.
Here’s my run-through of their schedule.
Week 1: Raiders at Panthers
This opening game is really going to show us where the Raiders line up in regards to 2020. At a rebuilding Panthers team looks very winnable on paper. Derek Carr is 1-0 against the Panthers but Teddy Bridgewater is also 1-0 against the Raiders.
These teams are deadlocked 3-3 all-time in games against each other. Both teams are 2-1 against each other at their respective home fields.
This one could truly go either way, but I think the key factor is going to be if Las Vegas can stop all those weapons Carolina has, especially on a shortened camp schedule.
I think the Panthers with all those weapons take this game.
- Record: 0-1
Week 2: Raiders vs. Saints
Drew Brees is 8-3 against the Raiders all-time and as we all know, grand home openings don’t exactly go over well for the home team. Also, I have the Saints losing Week 1 to Tampa Bay, so they’re going to come into this game trying to avoid dropping to 0-2.
- Record: 0-2
Week 3: Raiders at Patriots
Tough matchup for the Raiders. Derek Carr is 0-2 against the Patriots and the Raiders haven’t beaten New England since 2002 (five-straight losses) and haven’t won in New England since 1994.
Very tough defense for Derek Carr to go against so early.
- Record: 0-3
Week 4: Raiders vs. Bills
I have to give the Raiders a win. I have the Bills at 3-0 to this point, but the Raiders are too good to start off 0-4. Off-day for the Bills. Raiders are also 6-3 against the Bills in their last nine matchups.
- Record: 1-3
Week 5: Raiders at Chiefs
Not quite ready to knock off the big boys in the division. The Raiders are prepared with the necessary weaponry, but Derek Carr is still 2-10 against the Chiefs and the Raiders haven’t won in Kansas City since 2012.
- Record: 1-4
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Raiders vs. Buccaneers
Another tough matchup going against Tom Brady and that loaded Bucs offense. Not too shabby defensively either. The numbers are on the Raiders’ side for this one. 7-3 all-time versus the Bucs and 5-1 at home.
But this is a different kind of Bucs team.
- Record: 1-5
Week 8: Raiders at Browns
I don’t know what kind of team the Browns are going to be by this time. The Raiders have beaten Baker Mayfield once before, but now they get him with Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham by his side.
Again, too many weapons for Las Vegas to stop on defense.
- Record: 1-6
Week 9: Raiders at Chargers
Wins are coming, folks. I promise you. But this is another tough matchup for the Raiders.
They swept the Chargers last year, but by this time, I think the Bolts trot out Justin Herbert and he presents yet another high-flying offense for the Raiders to try and stop on the road.
- Record: 1-7
Week 10: Raiders vs. Broncos
Back in the win column. These two teams love to trade home wins. Denver hasn’t won on the road at the Raiders since 2015.
Tough defense for Derek Carr to go against, but now I think we’re going to start to see this team play to its potential and get comfortable in Las Vegas.
- Record: 2-7
Week 11: Raiders vs. Chiefs
Major upset alert. Derek Carr is still 2-10 against the Chiefs (make that 2-11 if we include the Week 5 matchup), but Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock’s plan comes to fruition and the Raiders out-gun Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs with the help of their loaded receiving core.
- Record: 3-7
Week 12: Raiders at Falcons
Thought about giving this one to the Raiders. These two teams are extremely similar in nature. The Falcons love to lose silly games at home, but the thing is they lose those silly games early in the year.
This is a team that usually closes strong, so I’m giving the Falcons the win here.
- Record: 3-8
Week 13: Raiders at Jets
Another winnable game, but once again (just like last year) Derek Carr and the Raiders get Sam Darnold’ed.
- Record: 3-9
Week 14: Raiders vs. Colts
Philip Rivers is 18-10 against the Raiders all-time but Derek Carr is also 2-1 against the Colts. The Colts have also won three of their last four road games against the Raiders.
But I don’t care. I’m going with the upset.
Indy is going to be very slow-paced on offense and their defensive secondary ain’t too much to overcome if you’re a high-powered offense like the Raiders. They upset Indy last year. They’ll do it again this year.
- Record: 4-9
Week 15: Raiders vs. Chargers
The Raiders get it done again at home against a Chargers team facing similar struggles.
- Record: 5-9
Week 16: Raiders vs. Dolphins
Yet another home win for the Raiders. They probably catch the Fins trying out Tua Tagovailoa who can certainly throw the football.
However, one area of weakness for the Dolphins this year will probably be a young offensive line, so this is a good chance to get after a young quarterback who doesn’t move that well.
- Record: 6-9
Week 17: Raiders at Broncos
The Raiders end their season in Denver. As I said, these teams love to trade home wins. The Raiders haven’t won in Denver since 2015 (much like how Denver hasn’t won at the Raiders since 2015).
- Record: 6-10
I have the Raiders ending their season at 6-10 in third place for the AFC West. Teams that move cities aren’t usually successful in that first year, so I suspect there will be some sort of growing pains for this team.
Hopefully, by year’s end, the Raiders will know what they want to do at the quarterback position. Still, there is so much to like about this team. Had they had a slightly easier schedule, I think I would’ve had them in that seventh spot for the playoffs.
Maybe I’m completely off once again as I have been in the past with this team, but I think this team faces an uphill battle this year.