After years of futility spent in the doldrums of the AFC West division, the Oakland Raiders finally looked primed to capture their first division title since 2002 last season, but came up just short in the final week of the regular season with a disappointing 24-6 defeat to the Denver Broncos. Much of that loss could be attributed to being forced to play backup rookie quarterback Conner Cook due to a season-ending broken fibula injury to Pro Bowl starter Derek Carr in Week 15. The loss meant Oakland relinquished the division crown to the Kansas City Chiefs and the bye in the playoffs and had to travel to Houston for the Wildcard round. This resulted in a virtual snoozefest of a game, where Brock Osweiler’s Texans eventually came away with a 27-14 win. With Cook in charge, the Raiders only managed 161 yards through the air, accompanied by three interceptions, and just like that, a once promising season came crashing back down to earth.
During the offseason, Carr has been busy rehabbing and actually says he feels stronger than prior to injury. This could be great news as Carr now enters his fourth year with the team, having already thrown 81 touchdowns compared to only 31 interceptions (only six last year). A healed and confident Carr, who is now firmly entrenched as the leader of the team, will be vital to any success the Raiders plan to have in 2017.
And success is what is expected now in Oakland, coming off a 12-4 campaign, where they scored the seventh most points (416) in the league. Vegas has them in a dead heat with the Chiefs to win the division at +220, followed by the Broncos at +240 and Los Angeles Rams at +450. They also sit at 18-1 odds to lift the Lombardi trophy, with only seven teams ahead of them in the betting market place.
Though the needle may be pointing up for the Silver and Black, fans shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves just yet. Why you ask…?
- Their History
The Raiders had been a complete dumpster fire for over a decade and one good season can’t erase those memories. This is not a team that has built a culture of winning. * Side note. It may be from 2008 but look up “dumpster fire” on Urban Dictionary and the Raiders are actually mentioned. 157 people seemed to agree.
Back to a serious note. No division titles since 2002 and no winning seasons until last year is no laughing matter. Their overall record in the past 14 years is a putrid 75-149.
- Potential fan unrest
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is one of the NFL’s oldest and smallest stadiums, which has seen the Raiders routinely rank 30th or lower in annual league attendance figures (pro-football-reference.com). The team could not work out a deal with the city for a new stadium so owner Mark Davis is packing his bags and taking his team to Las Vegas. While true, the Coliseum is already sold out for all seven home games (yes seven, more on that later) and the the move will likely not come until 2020, this could become a distraction.
- The bowl cut
Simply put, a man with this hair cut runs your team.
Owner Mark Davis, who also seems to believe fanny packs are still (were they ever?) in fashion, also travels more than 400 miles to get THIS haircut! The man is worth an estimated $500 million, yet he still wakes up, looks in the mirror and says “Well Marky, it’s that time again for our yearly pilgrimage across the state to get my bowl cut.” Perhaps, he should spring for a new, local barber who refuses to provide him with this atrocity of a haircut and use his newfound free time to work on improving the team’s defense. Which brings us to…
- The defense
For as explosive as Oakland’s offense was last year, a toilet paper damn would’ve had a better chance of keeping opponents at bay than their defense did. There are some truly gawdy stats out there and here are a few highlights, or lowlights. The reward for this performance, another year of Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Yay!
|Yards per game
|Yards per play allowed
|Opponent rushing yards per game
|Opponent passing yards per game
- The schedule
If you take a closer look at the Raiders’ 2016 schedule you’ll see their path to 12-4 may not have been that tough. Of those 12 wins only four came against teams with a winning record. And those four were Tennessee, Denver, Tampa Bay and Houston—not exactly your top Super Bowl contenders. Overall their record versus winning teams was a mediocre 4-4. This season’s schedule shapes up much harder as they only play five teams who had a losing record last year, and their 2017 opponents offer a combined 144-111-1 record. Add to this the fact they start with three of their opening four games on the road, only play three home games total after Week 7, and that they are losing a home game when they “host” New England in Mexico City and it all shapes up to look like tough sledding for the Raiders in 2017.
- Their division
The Raiders didn’t fair too well versus tougher opponents last year, which is a problem because their division will probably be one of the tightest in the league. The AFC West was one of only two divisions to have three teams with a winning record. The odds to win the division in 2017 are also the tightest from top to bottom amongst all divisions. As per Oddshark, Oakland has not had a winning record within division since 2010 and last year only managed to score 18.7 points versus their division foes, versus the 30.4 points scored against the rest of the league. The Raiders were swept by the Chiefs last year, arguably their main competition for the division and will be playing them on a short week in Week 7.
- Has lady luck run out
Parity in the NFL is a real thing. And when you consistently play close games, you aren’t supposed to come out on top every time. But Oakland was 6-0 in games decided by less than a touchdown. Nine of their wins came by single digits and five were by three or fewer points. The football gods were on their side—including when Del Rio shocked everyone by going for two points in Week 1 versus New Orleans and in a walk off overtime win against Tampa. The Raiders were also a league-best plus-7 in the completely random category of fumble plus/minus. Surely these stats will balance out.
- What’s the backup plan?
Carr sounds confident in his recovery and in a perfect world he’ll take every snap this year, but should he have any setbacks can Raider Nation count on Connor Cook? His two games in relief of Carr left much to be desired, and new signing EJ Manuel has been a disappointment in his career thus far only starting 17 games in his four-year career with a 6-11 record.
- What about Donald?
Left tackle Donald Penn has never missed a regular reason game in his 10-year NFL career, is a three-time Pro Bowler with Oakland, only gave up one sack all of last season and is one of the most respected players in the Raiders’ locker room. But… he’s in the middle of a holdout and isn’t happy about only being the 23rd highest-paid LT in the game. Getting him signed and happy will be crucial to keeping Carr protected.
- Then there’s this guy
Running back Latavius Murray ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year with 12, but was not resigned. So in comes Beast Mode. Marshawn Lynch, the hometown Oakland boy has come out of retirement to lead the Raiders’ run game. Lynch only made it into seven games in his last season in 2015, has over 2,300 carries on his odometer and by normal metrics for running backs is now over the hill at 31. He also managed to take a few moments of his time during Raiders’ training camp to make an impromptu visit to an NFL Network set to drop a few explicits and hit on a married reporter live on air. It was kinda funny, but mostly just really awkward. Take a look for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znNvBLMkpm4
Every team has weaknesses and the Raiders are no different. But the arrow is pointing up on this franchise after years of disappointment. They have a star quarterback with a high octane offense, a strong offensive line and one of the best defensive lineman in Khalil Mack. Mack has started every game in his three-year Raiders’ career and has recorded 4, 15, and 11 sacks in those seasons. His 11 sacks last year was good enough for eighth in the league and only 4.5 behind the league lead. At 8-1 odds to win the regular season sack race, he offers a great value play. The same 8-1 odds can also be found on Oakland to win the AFC, with only New England and Pittsburgh being given lower odds. Given their weaknesses, if you feel the Raiders will regress and miss out on the playoffs you can find them paying +150 To Miss The Playoffs. Alternatively, you can find short odds of -200 for them To Make The Playoffs.
All odds mentioned courtesy of Bet365