Guest Post by @wickedeuro
For the last 25 years, my relationship with the Raiders can be described like this: they're like that crazy Uncle that is in an out of jail, always involved in some drama, mostly unemployed, getting drunk at your child's birthday party, but somehow you HAVE to love him: he's family after all.
The dysfunctional, archaic way the franchise was ran, in addition to being at a schematic disadvantage in the vast majority of the games made me cringe. The only good thing out of being a fan of a poorly ran franchise is the fact that I faded them frequently in my bets, they were in fact, my cash cow for multiple seasons. As a former elite Madden player, the inefficient way the offense was constructed and how easy this defense was to beat with passes inside the hashmarks and frequent targeting of RBs an TEs, was beyond infuriating. I guess you could say a love/hate relationship is the best way to describe it. This is the first time in 15+ years that I don't feel like the Raiders will be at a schematic disadvantage, and I will try to make my case in the following paragraphs.
Let's also get this out of the way: Jon Gruden's scowling, caricature like persona is an easy target for the general media, and even sharp minds like Evan Silva and Warren Sharp. Some of the comments Gruden made can easily be made into click baiting material. "Going back to 1998", his apparent disdain for analytics and modern tech (even though they have a chip on older players' shoulder pads to track their speed and overall exertion, just to name one). So, he is either really conflicted or he is completely playing the media.
Both Vegas totals and football analytics guys have the Raiders playing a bottom 5 strength of schedule in 2018. Only the Patriots, beneficiaries of playing 6 games in the dumpster fire also known as the AFC East have an unquestioned easier schedule.
The category each opponent falls under are obviously subjective, but this is how they break down according to my own power rankings. Home/Away game designation and situational spots are largely not taken into account, other than the two games vs the two best teams on the schedule.
- 0 games vs Elite teams: No NE, MIN, NO, ATL or PHI on the schedule.
- 2 games vs Very Good, but non Elite Teams: vs LAR at home and vs PIT at home (both spots are extremely advantageous to the Raiders).
The late MNF opener has been a death trap for favorites. This game is eerily similar to the Falcons vs Eagles game back in 2015. Chip Kelly, like McVay was the wizard, and no one could stop that offense. The Falcons were 3 point home dogs as well, and they won convincingly, under first year coach Dan Quinn.
The Steelers game is another huge trap for the Raiders opponent: The Steelers are obsessed with New England. That is a known fact. What is also a known fact, is that they always underperform the game BEFORE the play the Pats, which is a Sunday Night Football across the country. East Coast teams travelling west to play a late game generally don't fare very well, as the games generally end well past midnight, ET. West Coast teams in this situation cover close to 65% of the time.
At the very least I see the Raiders splitting these two games.
- 2 Games vs Good teams: Both are against division rival LA Chargers, and we know division games are tough. LAC were very lucky to pull out a 17-16 victory in Oakland last year, when all sorts of things went wrong for the Raiders. I see another 1-1 record here.
- 3 Games vs Average Teams: 2 vs KC and 1 At Baltimore. We ll call this 3 game stint a 1-2 record.
- 6 Games vs Below Average Teams: DENx2, CLE at home and SEA in London, and road games at SF, and CIN. The Raiders have a better roster than all those teams, except maybe Cincy(who is a VERY underrated team, getting John Ross and Eifert Back, in addition to fixing the OL), so we ll call this a 4-2 record.
- 3 Games vs Terrible teams. I classify those teams as teams likely to vie for a top 5 Pick in the upcoming Draft: MIA, IND and AZ. Even if Luck is close to what he was, at BEST Indy is a below average team. Oakland should go at least 2-1 vs these 3 teams.
So, when it's all said and done, even with a conservative approach this is a 9-7 team. Basically a borderline playoff team, with the potential to be much more, if we they get a few breaks, the Offense gels really well, and they stay healthy.
As a Raiders fan of 20+ year, I have been accused of being the most pessimistic fan by many of my friends. That WAS true. I didn't trust the coaching staff and thought the Raiders, especially during the Al Davis era had many players on "scholarship".
That is no longer the case. Even if Gruden and DC Guenther are average, that is a tremendous improvement over Jack Del Rio, Downing and Ken Norton Jr. In my opinion, they went from a bottom 5 coaching staff to at LEAST an average one. As we all know in this sport coaching and schemes matter more than anything, aside from having a capable QB.
The Raiders are also huge regression candidates: they had a horrible turnover differential last year, and those tend to even out long term.
Offensively, this is the most talented group Gruden has coached in his entire career. Gannon was a BETTER QB than Carr, but there isn't a person that would say he was more talented than Carr. Carr has a near elite arm, but he definitely needs to play tougher, extend plays and refine his footwork.
Lynch showed in the second half of the year that he is what we always knew he would be: A volume runner capable to toting the rock 20+ times per game.
Jordy's loss of speed has been completely blown out of proportion, and, per Josh Hermsmeyer's study, Jordy was running with the same speed he ran in 2016. One thing I can promise you: if Jordy flops is not because he is slower than Jerry Rice at age 39 or Tim Brown at age 36 were in this scheme. Cooper torched the Chiefs primarily out of the slot, only to not see much time going in motion and getting a free release the rest of the season. Brilliant coaching.
A very underrated signing is that of not Martavis Bryant, but Ryan Switzer. He was one of my favorite players coming out of the 2017 draft, and reports out of camp is that he is breaking ankles on a consistent basis and has great report with Carr.
We know the Raiders OL is one of the best in the league. Even last year, they provided Carr with ample throwing time and were the only Offensive Line to pave the way for a 100 yards rushing game allowed by the Eagles vaunted Defense the entire season. Watch how the Raiders deal with pressure vs teams like Dallas or Philly, vs how Atlanta's line (another OL considered to be at the top of the rankings) vs the same opponents.
A common cause for why the Raiders will not be at least an average team (which is what an 8 win total implies) is the fact that the Defense is simply not good. Under Guenther, however, the Bengals frequently boasted a top 10 pass defense, top 10 turnover producing defense and top 10 scoring defenses.
Norton's Defense averaged 24.7 ppg allowed during his ten game tenure. Players were constantly asked things they couldn't do (Obi Melifonwu covering Brandin Cooks and consequently getting torched by 20 yards, anyone?).
As soon as Pagano took over the defense, with the exact same personnel, that average dropped to 21 ppg. I think that is a clear indication that even with average coaching, this defense has a chance to be at least average.
Based on the very easy perceived schedule (we obviously don't know for sure how things will play out), the improved roster and going from a completely incompetent coaching staff to at least a capable one, I think the Raiders present a tremendous "buy low" opportunity. OVER 8 wins is a solid investment in a wide open division.
Lest I am accused of being a Raiders homer, I will point out to the fact that I went 6-1 last year on bets fading the Raiders. Winning bets is way more important that being a homer in my book.