The Raiders may have made headlines in the offseason for their now confirmed move to Las Vegas, but they also enter this season with huge expectations on their shoulders for a competitive 2017 season. While last year was impressive, it was ultimately fruitless. Can they finally bring the Lombardi trophy back to Oakland? Or will the city watch it’s team leave without one final hurrah?
The Raiders hit 2016 with the kind of youthful swagger you expect of a team that has been reloading with youthful talent for a while. They won a Week 1 game over the New Orleans Saints 35-34 by going for two with just 47 seconds on the clock. It was a bold call by head coach Jack Del Rio, but one that fit the mentality of the players.
In Week 2 they lost a close game to the Falcons, who exposed a weak secondary, but then went on an 11-2 run through the heart of the season, beating up teams with a physical offensive line and controlled passing game, while Khalil Mack ruined any team silly enough not to double team him.
The season went from Super Bowl challenger to also-ran in a heartbeat though, when Derek Carr broke his leg in a Week 16 win over Indianapolis. With him out for the playoffs the Houston Texans defense feasted on a limited Raiders offense and they were bounced from the postseason with little fuss.
|Marshawn Lynch, RB||Malcolm Smith, LB|
|Jared Cook, TE||Stacy McGee, DT|
|Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR||Menelik Watson, OT|
|Marshall Newhouse, OT||Austin Howard, OT|
|EJ Manuel, QB||Latavius Murray, RB|
|Gareon Conley, CB (Draft)||Andre Holmes, WR|
|Obi Melifonwu, DB (Draft)||DJ Hayden, CB|
The biggest addition to the Raiders is Marshawn Lynch. Combining “Beast Mode” with a mean, physical, and brilliant offensive line is a wet dream for football purists, but you have to wonder if after a year away from football if he can be the same beast we are used to.
The Raiders addressed their secondary worries by adding cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round, and the athletic phenom Obi Melifonwu in the second. Rookie defensive backs are never a guaranteed success, but it’s an infusion of talent that should help them get better.
On the losses side, Oakland need to find a new right tackle with both Austin Howard and Menelik Watson leaving. Maybe Marshall Newhouse can be that guy, but he stands out like a sore thumb next to the rest of the O-line.
|1||@ Tennessee Titans|
|2||Vs New York Jets|
|3||@ Washington Redskins|
|4||@ Denver Broncos|
|5||Vs Baltimore Ravens|
|6||Vs Los Angeles Chargers|
|7||Vs Kansas City Chiefs|
|8||@ Buffalo Bills|
|9||@ Miami Dolphins|
|11||Vs New England Patriots (Mexico City)|
|12||Vs Denver Broncos|
|13||Vs New York Giants|
|14||@ Kansas City Chiefs|
|15||Vs Dallas Cowboys|
|16||@ Philadelphia Eagles|
|17||@ Los Angeles Chargers|
The Raiders get the AFC East, NFC East, Baltimore, and the Tennessee Titans this year. While that brings nice games against the Jets and Bills, all four of the NFC East teams are dangerous, and while the Ravens are an injury-riddled mess right now, the Titans are kind of like the Raiders last season – a hungry, young, and talented team.
The Raiders’ toughest stretch is immediately after their bye, they go to Mexico City to play the Patriots before facing two of the toughest defenses in the NFL in the Broncos and Giants, then they have a potentially division-deciding bout in Kansas City before facing the Cowboys. That is a five-game stretch against teams that went a combined 59-21, that’s a .738 winning percentage or the equivalent of an 11.8-4.2 record.
Three to watch
Everyone knows Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, but there’s a lot of other contributors for the Raiders who make them the Super Bowl contender they are.
Kelechi Osemele, guard
Guards aren’t sexy, I understand that. They don’t touch the ball, they don’t play on the edge of the line and dance in space. Instead, they sit on the interior and butt heads with other large men. So why watch Osemele? Because he is brilliant at what he does. Oakland’s offense is run through the guard position, with Osemele and his running-mate Gabe Jackson creating lanes for the running game and keeping the top of the pocket clean. If Osemele is on form, Oakland’s offense is near-unstoppable.
Jalen Richard, running back
All the focus may be on Marshawn Lynch, but Jalen Richard is the next man up if things go wrong for “Beast Mode”. In 2016 Richard played the backup role to Latavius Murray, but he wowed viewers with his big-play ability.
Richard only took 83 carries but he amassed 491 yards, which adds up to an incredible 5.9 yards a carry. He had five runs over 20 yards, including one over 40. He’s a big play machine who can spell Lynch and maintain the threat on the ground. Can he shoulder a full-time role? We might get a chance to see this season, and if not then the Raiders should have themselves a pocket-dynamo to scare defenses.
Cory James, linebacker
1,562 snaps walked out the door in free agency in the form of Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley. That is a lot of work at the linebacker position that is up for grabs this preseason, and someone has to win them.
James was the fourth linebacker in Oakland’s rotation last year, playing 35% of snaps in relief of any starter he could. The former 6th round pick is now entering his second season in the NFL with two empty spots in the depth chart ahead of him.
The Raiders front seven, outside of Khalil Mack, was not good last year, and little was done to improve it. So James is in position to be extremely influential this season, and the Raiders need to hope he or perhaps one of the ten first-or-second year linebackers the Raiders have in camp can be.
The Raiders see themselves as Super Bowl contenders, as do many talking heads and football analysts. It’s hard to argue against that given they are returning the core of their successful 2016 roster and have sprinkled in yet more talent. Derek Carr’s health is obviously pivotal, but I think so will be Marshawn Lynch’s.
Oakland ran the ball 27 times a game last season, and if Lynch can not shoulder most of that workload I’m not sure they can find the same offensive success as last year. I like Richard, but I don’t think he can be a workhorse. I like Derek Carr, but I’m not certain he can carry a poor defense past the Steelers and Patriots.
Oakland’s minimum hope is to win the AFC West, and I think that is extremely likely. The Broncos defense and Andy Reid’s consistent Chiefs will threaten them, but with Khalil Mack disrupting quarterbacks and the pair of rookie defensive backs providing some coverage support they should have enough on defense to win 12 games. Stopping Tom Brady or the Killer B’s, going toe-to-toe with the best offenses and game-planners though? It’s still a bar they need to clear.
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