Oakland, Calif. — A lot of people in the national media are beginning to recognize the Oakland Raiders as potential contenders; some have even predicted that the Raiders would return to the playoffs after over a decade of not being there and make a run at Super Bowl LI.
Obviously, with the Raiders you need to proceed with caution in terms of predicting something as lofty as the playoffs. They have not played even a single down in the preseason. It’s very easy sometimes to get caught up in crowing teams because they look great on paper (and the Raiders do) but expectations should be tempered. After all, the Raiders have been down that road before which eventually led to yet another disappointing year.
With all that out of the way, the Raiders actually do look quite well on paper. The do in fact look like they could do some damage. The AFC West still looks like a very tough division though. The Broncos are still the defending Champs and still have a top 5 defense in the NFL despite losing a few key assets. The Chiefs are also defending their playoff birth from last season as well and the Chargers, similar to the Raiders, at least look better on paper.
With all that said, I wanted to break down the Raiders opponents for the 2016 season.
WEEK 1 – @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
It’s always hard to bet against Drew Brees on his home turf of the Super Dome. He is always capable of putting up 30+ points on most defenses. However, the problem here is the Saints defense. It has been for some time. I could very well see this one turning out to be a shootout. On paper, this game favors the Raiders but it’s hard to go on the road in week 1 and get a win. This game could go either way frankly.
WEEK 2 – ATLANTA FALCONS
I’m not sold on the Falcons. The Falcons have a relatively difficult schedule and as bad as the Raiders have been in years past, it is never easy to go in to the black hole and dominate. The Falcons and Matt Ryan have traditionally struggled to play in grass stadiums. The Raiders, at this point in the season, will still have dirt from the A’s field as a factor and element. As the mantra goes, ‘any given sunday’ – It’s just tough to see the Falcons pulling this one off.
WEEK 3 – @ TENNESSEE TITANS
This will be another very interesting math up. Both teams seem to be on the up and up. Mariota is perhaps one of the most dynamic quarterbacks that have come in to the league since Michael Vick. He can make plays with both his legs and his arm. Both defenses still have a few question marks, so it’s possible this one winds up in an old fashioned shootout at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
WEEK 4 – @ BALTIMORE RAVENS
This could be another tough road game. The Ravens are getting some players back from injury and had a relatively good draft this year. With that said, I still feel like the Raiders could potentially have the advantage here. The Ravens still may have trouble on the ground. When they were at their best, they had Ray Rice. Forsett is essentially a poor man’s version of that. While Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken are good, and Breshad Perriman coming back, they still aren’t as impactful as Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith were in their Super Bowl run. Nor do they have near the same defense, or even close. Yes Suggs will be back but it may not be enough in this one.
WEEK 5 – SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Division games are always a battle. It doesn’t matter if one team or the other has zero wins on the season, they’re always going to bring it against a division opponent. This home game for the Raiders will be no different. It’s tough for any team to play with the raucous and rabid Oakland fanbase banging their heads like a mosh pit of a death metal concert. It gets loud here and particularly even more amped when a rival like the Chargers are in town. The Chargers are better on paper but I think the home team will be too much on this day.
WEEK 6 – KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
This will be a very pivotal game for both teams considering that the Raiders will be trying to get to where the Chiefs were at last season. Both teams stack up well against one and other but the home field advantage could play a part here again as mentioned earlier. Alex Smith tends to play very well in Oakland for whatever reason. Last year, the Chiefs upset the Raiders at home, 34-20. Kansas City swept the series last season and the Raiders will be looking for revenge.
WEEK 7 – @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Much like the Raiders, the Jaguars look very much improved on paper. Taking it to the field and allowing that to translate to wins is obviously another thing. The Jags had perhaps the best draft of any other team as they wound up getting both Jalen Ramsey (Florida State, and Myles Jack (UCLA), both of which were projected as top 5 picks overall. Couple that with last years draft pick in Dante Fowler and the Jags seemingly could be a top 10 defense; which was a big area of concern. The offense is just as stacked. I hope I am wrong here but I feel like the Jags would have the advantage at home here.
WEEK 8 – @ TAMPA BAY BUCS
The Raiders will stay in Florida for a consecutive week which means the team will most likely not travel home first. Sometimes that is great for building chemistry and camaraderie. The Bucs now have a quarterback in Jameis Winston that can drop a bunch of points in a hurry but it will be interesting to see whether he falls in to the trap of having a sophomore slump. This will be another tall wall for the Raiders to climb but they have the people to get the job done here in this one. It’s just a matter of executing a great game plan.
WEEK 9 – DENVER BRONCOS
The defending Champs. What else can you say? It not going to be easy but the Raiders seemingly play Denver tough every single time. The Broncos no longer have the veteran leadership at the quarterback in place and will most likely rely on the arm and leadership of a rookie in Paxton Lynch. If anyone knows the quarterback position well, it is both John Elway and Gary Kubiak. The Raiders and Broncos split the series last year 1-1 both winning on the opposing teams home turf. The Raiders could finally be in a position this year to potentially sweep the series. And should it happen, it would not be a shock.
WEEK 10 – BYE
WEEK 11 – HOUSTON TEXANS
The Texans will not be a walk in the park exactly but this could be a very winnable game for the Raiders at home. It takes time for teams to gel together. Especially ones as young as the Texans are. They’ve added a lot of new pieces. With that said, they have a swarming defense. The Raiders may need to win this game through the air considering how stacked the Texans front seven is on defense. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney wreak havoc week in and week out. This will be no different for them in trying to make Derek Carr’s life a living hell in Week 11. All that being considered, the Raiders can and most likely will win this game.
WEEK 12 – CAROLINA PANTHERS
Cam Newton is one of the toughest quarterbacks to defend against due to his duel threat ability. There’s a good chance that he will be dabbing at some point in this game. However, that does not mean that the Panthers will be invincible. They will be out for blood after the humiliating loss they took in the big game last year. They had a phenomenal run in the regular season as well as the post season to that point. This season, they will not only look to replicate their regular season and post season success but to finish things off this time hoisting the Lombardi. It’s a tall task for Oakland but Raider Nation will have their backs.
WEEK 13 – BUFFALO BILLS
This will have been the Raiders fourth consecutive home game; not including the bye week. If the Raiders cannot take advantage of the long home stretch they will have at their disposal, then they probably do not belong in the same sentence as playoffs anyway. I do not think that will be the case though. The Bills are a tough team to gauge in what they’ll accomplish in 2016. Rex Ryan has yet to replicate the success he had as a head coach in New York his first two seasons with that title anywhere. The Bills showed signs of life here and there but if you are not a member of the Bills Mafia, then it hard to justify more than an 8-8 type of year. They are in a tough division and it may be hard for them to get over the hump. That will have no baring on this game but the Raiders might just be too mch for the Bills in week 13.
WEEK 14 – @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Any time you play at Arrowhead, you are going to feel the pressure. Is it impossible to win there? Close anyway. Again though, the division games are just different. These teams know each other very well. Tendencies and game planning are not as hard to figure out so much as just beating the guy across from you in execution. Game two will be a slugfest no question. I think it might be tough for the Raiders to come out on top here but stranger things have happened and the Raiders have won here before.
WEEK 15 – @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Another away game. The Raiders had the luxury of being at home for several weeks and will have to hit the road hard toward the end. That’s exactly why it’s imperative to take advantage of their home stand. However, the Chargers don’t have what most would be considered to be a heavy home field advantage. This is not a knock on their fans but more of a stadium issue. It doesn’t quite retain the sound like an Arrowhead or Century Link. This is another game where it cold go either way. I know I’ve repeated that a lot at this juncture but with semi-predictions this early that can be expected.
WEEK 16 – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
This is the Raiders last home game and they will need to make it count. It’s tough to know how well Andrew Luck will be in coming back for the Colts. When I look at the Colts roster, I struggle seeing them being anything more than a .500 ball club. Frank Gore is ancient, Andrew Luck’s future is a mystery, and outside of T.Y. Hilton being their only established target coupled with the fact that their defense isn’t the best makes me confident in thinking that Oakland can pull this one off.
WEEK 17 – @ DENVER BRONCOS
Mile High Stadium … another very rowdy and tough place to play; especially when the Raiders are in town. The Raiders did beat the Broncos last year in that building though. At this point in the season, Paxton Lynch will have enough games under his belt to have the feel of the game down. But pending how well the Raiders gel with all that talent, the Broncos may not be the front runners in the division at this point in the year. It very well could be the Raiders or the Chiefs. I cannot imagine the Chargers will do much of anything but each new season always has a surprise or two. Anything can happen through the course of a season and nothing is different here in Week 17.
All in all, the safe bet is to say that the Raiders will be better than they were last season. Baring major or catastrophic injury, the Raiders may very well have a great chance to punch their ticket to the dance this year.