The Oakland Raiders went into the 2017 with high expectations. Oakland was coming off a 12-4 season in 2016 and trip to the playoffs. Their first winning season since 2002. Needless to say, the Raiders failed to live up to the hype. They finished a mere 6-10 and that was with a 2-0 start to the campaign.
It was such a disappointing season that head coach Jack Del Rio was let go, which in turn opened up the door for Oakland to make a big splash with his replacement. They did exactly that by luring John Gruden away from the Monday Night Football booth back to the sidelines. Many wondered if Gruden would ever return to coaching, but he simply couldn’t turn down the 10-year $100 million contract that Oakland put on the table. Gruden was the head coach with Oakland from 1998-2001. He last was a head coach in the NFL in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As is often the case with a big coaching change like this, there’s a ton of changes in the coaching staff and this was no different. Gruden cleaned house of Del Rio’s former assistants and we can expect a much different looking Oakland team in all 3 phases in 2018.
The big question is how quickly will the players be able to adjust to the new schemes. The good news is there’s plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball.
Last year the Raiders were T-17th in total yards (324.1 ypg) and 23rd in scoring at (18.8 ppg). This was a total shock, as Oakland had most of their key pieces back from 2016’s team that finished 6th in total yards (373.3 ypg) and 7th in scoring (26.0 ppg). The new offensive coordinator is Greg Olson, but Gruden is expected to handle the play-calling.
The biggest key for Gruden and the offense is figuring out what went wrong with starting quarterback Derek Carr in 2017 and making sure it doesn’t repeat itself. Carr went from playing at an MVP level in 2016 to struggling to hit wide open receivers.
It certainly didn’t help that Oakland’s highly touted and highly paid offensive line didn’t play up to their potential. Oakland went from having the 6th best rushing attack (120.1 ypg) to the 25th best attack (97.1 ypg). There’s going to be a high priority to get the running game back on track. Expect a heavy workload for veteran running back Marshawn Lynch and his newly signed backup Doug Martin.
The Raiders decided to part ways with wide out Michael Crabtree, who led the team in receptions (58) and receiving touchdowns (8), while also finishing third in receiving yards (618). They believe they more than filled the void left by Crabtree by signing veteran Jordy Nelson away from Green Bay and trading for the explosive Martavis Bryant. It will be interesting to see how those moves pay off, but the other big key is for Amari Cooper to put it all together.
The new defensive coordinator is Paul Guenther, who held the same job the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He’ll implement his up the field 4-3 scheme that has worked well in previous seasons with the Bengals.
The big concern is whether or not Gunther has the talent across the board to turn this unit around. Everyone knows the Raiders have one of the best defensive players in the game in Khalil Mack, but that’s about the only sure thing on this side of the ball.
One of the primary focuses was trying to improve the interior pass rush to exploit all the double-teams sent Mack’s way. Though the two primary addition ions were both rookies in 2nd round pick P.J. Hall out of Sam Houston State and 5th round selection Maurice Hurst out of Michigan. The other key up front for Gunther is to get Mario Edwards Jr to play up to his potential.
The Raiders added two veteran linebackers in free agency in Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson. Johnson might be the bigger name, but Whitehead will likely have the bigger impact. Johnson is entering his 14th year in the league and was basically shown the door in KC after a poor 2017 season.
There will be several new faces in the secondary as well. The only starter back from last year is safety Karl Joseph. The team signed corner Rashaan Melvin and safety Marcus Gilchrist. They also get back last year’s first round pick in Gareon Conley, whose rookie season was cut way short because of injuries.
Given all the changes and how poorly this team played last year, it’s easy to see why there’s a wide range of views on how the 2018 season is going to go. There’s those that think Oakland is the team to beat in the AFC West and others that see this team being flawed in too many areas to expect a major turnaround.
2018 Raiders Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|9||at 49ers TNF||+4||0.34|
Projected Wins: 7.99
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 8
I think the value here is with the OVER 8 when it comes to betting the Raiders win total for 2018. There’s no question that this team underachieved last year and it all stemmed from a down season from quarterback Derek Carr. I think with a renewed emphasis on establishing the running game, it’s going to open up things for Carr and take a lot of the pressure off him to make all the plays. I also don’t think Carr was a 100% for most of last season, which would explain some of the accuracy problems.
If the offense can get anywhere close to the form of 2016, this team should have no problem going at least .500, which is all we need to avoid a losing ticket. Whether or not the defense makes the same kind of strides will determine just how far this team can go. It’s not out of the question this team could replicate their 12-4 campaign from two years ago.
I also want to note that one of the biggest reasons I’m optimistic with Oakland going 9-7 or better is the schedule looks a lot more friendly. The majority of their big games against the top teams outside the division are at home, giving them several winnable road games against the likes of the Dolphins, 49ers, Cardinals, Ravens and Bengals.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +2800
You could definitely make a case for Oakland being a legit sleeper to win it all in 2018. Who knows how far this team would have made it in 2016 had Carr not suffered a broken leg in Week 16. While Carr returning to playing at an MVP level is the biggest thing for the Raiders in terms of their hopes to winning it all, they are going to need a lot of other things to go right for this team to end up with the Lombardi Trophy.
Odds to Win the AFC: +1500
Similar story here with Oakland in terms of their value to win the AFC. There’s enough talent on the roster for it to happen, but a lot will have to go right for it to unfold that way. As of right now there 6 teams with better odds to win the AFC. In terms of value, it’s not bad, given they have the same odds to win the AFC was the Broncos, Ravens and Titans. I would definitely take Oakland over each of those teams.
Odds to Win the AFC West: +275
While I think Oakland is going to be improved and should be able to reach at least 8 wins, a lot of that has to do with the number and the schedule. When it comes to winning the AFC West, I’m a lot less confident. I’m not saying they aren’t capable of winning the division, I just think the Chiefs and Chargers are both going to be legit Super Bowl contenders. Given that all 3 come in at about the same price to win the division, there’s just not enough value here for me to back Oakland with this prop.