The Las Vegas Raiders overcame monumental, nearly unprecedented adversity to make the playoffs last season. Much of that success can be attributed to quarterback Derek Carr, both from a performance and leadership standpoint. Can new head coach Josh McDaniels keep Las Vegas on track in an absolutely loaded AFC West? Let’s take a closer look at the Raiders:
Opening Win Total: 8
Current Win Total: 8.5
Schedule Difficulty: Hard
Las Vegas Raiders Team Preview: Offense
Our Mike Martz has an intriguing outlook on the 2022 Raiders, most notably that Derek Carr is a top-five quarterback in the NFL. While that’s a little too rich of a stance for my blood, Carr’s performance through the first three games last season changed how I viewed him as a player. Carr shredded three playoff-caliber, high-quality defenses in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Miami to kickoff last season. Through that three-game win streak, Carr exceeded 380 yards passing in each contest. Arguably, no player was more valuable to their team than Carr.
Weeks later, Jon Gruden resigned as head coach. Soon after, Henry Ruggs caused a tragic car accident that led to individuals losing their lives. In a matter of weeks, the Raiders lost their head coach and offensive play-caller in Gruden, along with the lid-lifting, difference-making speed that Ruggs provided. From a culture standpoint, it’s incredible that the Raiders kept things together internally. It’s remarkable what this team accomplished last season under these conditions.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Raiders offense was:
- 6th in net passing yards.
- 28th in rushing yards.
- 18th in points per game.
The path to the Raiders offense beating those figures starts with the acquisition of wide receiver Davante Adams. Our Brett Favre explains why Davante Adams is one of the premium wide receivers in the NFL. The combination of dynamic tight end Darren Waller, the still underrated Hunter Renfrow, and a topflight receiver like Adams gives the Raiders one of the best groups of pass catchers in the league.
The Raiders’ offensive line is the biggest obstacle to this offense taking a step forward. Left tackle Kolton Miller and center Andre James are the centerpieces of this unit. However, the rest of the group is a question mark in pass protection. One of the things that truly impressed me about Carr last season is that he played as well as he did despite this average, at best, offensive line. We’ve already seen that Carr can be effective with this group. Furthermore, new head coach Josh McDaniels is an opponent-specific game planner capable of mitigating roster limitations through the scheme.
The Las Vegas running backs group is led by former first-round pick Josh Jacobs, who will be highly motivated in a contract year. Veteran Kenyan Drake is coming off a broken ankle from last season. But he’s been an asset as a runner and pass catcher in the past. Rookie Zamir White has already looked promising this August, giving Vegas three capable options at running back. The Raiders’ offensive line performs better as run blockers than pass blockers. Therefore, there is a path to this running game inching closer to the middle-of-the-pack this season.
Las Vegas Raiders Team Preview: Defense
Last season, per Sports Info Solutions, the Raiders’ defense was:
- 19th in rushing yards allowed.
- 10th in passing yards allowed.
- 21st in sacks, 9th in hurries, 3rd in knockdowns, and 7th in pressures.
- 26th in points allowed per game.
The Raiders’ pass defense was more successful last season than most might expect. Some of that was schedule driven, as Vegas played ten games against teams with average or worse quarterback play. Seven of those ten matchups paired volatile quarterback play with a below-average offensive line. The Raiders’ pass rush no doubt benefited from those contests. That said, bringing in Chandler Jones this offseason to pair with Maxx Crosby gives Vegas one of the best EDGE duos in football. Even if the Raiders’ pass rush doesn’t quite perform at the same level statistically as it did last season, we can reasonably expect it to be more dangerous with the addition of Jones.
On the back end, the indirect swap of 32-year-old cornerback Casey Hayward for former Raven Anthony Averett and former Colt Rock Ya-Sin makes this secondary deeper and younger. While this swap isn’t a significant needle mover like Chandler Jones’s acquisition, it represents a potential upgrade for the Raiders’ secondary. Unfortunately, there’s no apparent reason to expect the Raiders to be a significantly better run defense this year.
The Raiders have one of the most demanding schedules in football. Their start is especially brutal: at Chargers, vs. Cardinals, at Titans, vs. Broncos, at Chiefs (MNF). All five of those teams are projected to be .500 or better. Additionally, each of the Raiders’ three divisional opponents has a double-digit win total.
On the other side of their Week 6 bye, Vegas has their most manageable schedule stretch this season: vs. Texans, at Saints, at Jaguars, vs. Colts, at Broncos, at Seattle. The Colts and Broncos have double-digit win totals, while the Saints (8.5-win total) are a much tougher out in New Orleans. This six-game stretch has two sets of back-to-back road games split by a home matchup with the physical Colts. Seven of the Raiders’ first 11 games are on the road.
The Raiders’ schedule takes a turn for the worse starting in Week 13: vs. Chargers, at Rams (TNF), vs. Patriots (SNF), at Steelers (Christmas Eve), vs. 49ers, and vs. Chiefs. Through this six-game stretch, Vegas will face four opponents with double-digit win totals, including the defending champs, on the road, on a short week.
Overall, Las Vegas faces nine teams with double-digit win totals and four more with at least an 8.5-game win total. That leaves the Raiders with only four opponents projected to have a losing record. They’ll face three of those opponents on the road, including the Steelers, who haven’t had a losing season since 2003.
The bear case for the Raiders is built on their demanding schedule, brutal division, and significant roster turnover while transitioning to a new coaching staff. Another critical factor is the Raiders were 7-2 in one-score games last season. It’s reasonable to expect negative regression in those close contests this season.
The bull case for Vegas is built on the Raiders entering the season with an improved roster and the near certainty that they’ll have much more organizational stability this year. After Jon Gruden resigned, the Raiders went 5-2 in one-score games last season. Usually, I support betting on regression in one-score games when there is a very one-sided record. In this case, I’m much more willing to treat it as a wash than I normally would, given the abnormal amount of unexpected turmoil the Raiders had to overcome last season.
Our Mike Martz could see the Raiders having “a Cinderella season” this year. I don’t think that’s entirely out of the question, and Derek Carr is an attractive dark-horse MVP candidate in an improved offense. The difficult schedule and brutal division give me some pause with every AFC West team, but I liked the Raiders over at eight games when lines opened, and I’d still lean that way at 8.5.