Too many unknowns to project winning record for Raiders in Gruden’s return year

June 17, 2018 GMT

2018 win total (via Bovada): 8

2017 ATS record: 5-9-2

Optimist view:

When healthy, which wasn’t often in 2017, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper are far too talented to lead an offense that ranks 23rd in scoring again. And there’s no reason the NFL’s third-most expensive O-line should block for the 25th-ranked rushing attack again.

That tells us that in addition to injuries, poor coaching played a big part in the Raiders’ six-win regression. Are we convinced Jon Gruden still has his fastball and his return instantly cures what ails the Oakland offense? No. But, even after a nearly decade-long coaching layoff, he should be better equipped to maximize the Raiders’ talent on offense than overmatched Todd Downing.

Jordy Nelson brings stability, if no longer a big-play dimension, to assist Carr, Cooper and Jared Cook. And Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.3 yards per carry — including a robust 5.2 in December — in his first season back from retirement. With the old-school Gruden vowing to unleash the Beast more after Oakland ranked 30th in rush attempts, and Lynch not starting rusty, it’s certainly possible the ground game gains real traction in a division where the Chargers (31st) and Chiefs (25th) were awful stopping the run.


Khalil Mack’s supporting cast is nothing if not volatile, but he’s one of the NFL’s singular most dominant defenders and could be even better if holdovers Mario Edwards or Bruce Irvin excel in a new scheme or wild-card rookies Maurice Hurst and Arden Key play to their talent level. And with new full-time boundary corners in Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin, the secondary could surprise after surrendering an awful 24:5 TD-INT ratio, 68.1 completion percentage and 101.8 rating — all among the worst in football.

Pessimist view:

Getting older in free agency is generally a fool’s errand, and Oakland almost certainly will enter the season with the NFL’s oldest roster. Select 30-something signings can be constructive on clubs that are a player or two away. The Raiders had a bottom-third defense for a second consecutive year, were outscored by a combined 76 points and gave Gruden a contract that brings with it zero urgency. Oakland’s plan, from our vantage point, is difficult to comprehend.

After starting 32 consecutive games to begin his career, Carr suffered serious injuries in each of his past two 15-start campaigns. No one should question the toughness of a player who missed just one game with a broken back, but it’s fair to wonder whether any adverse effects might linger. Durability concerns with fellow former high picks on defense like Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu and Edwards could hold back a defense that doesn’t have enough front-line pieces, much less the necessary depth, to weather too much adversity.


And adversity is understating what Oakland would endure if the contract holdout of Mack isn’t resolved before the season. Few defenders in football impact a game on their own — vs. the run and pass — the way he does. Plus, rumblings of another Martavis Bryant suspension loom, and without him, Oakland’s failure to maximize its trade down with Arizona in April could be even costlier in the short and long term.

Then there’s the $100 million question: Can Gruden be the difference? The answer might lie in his willingness to adapt, and so far, there’s little evidence to suggest that he’ll coach like it’s 2018, not 1998.

On schedule: It’s the NFL’s third-easiest based on 2017 win percentage, and though we know putting too much stock in last year’s results can be futile, nothing on the Raiders’ docket appears particularly imposing right now. They have only two out-of-division games vs. ’17 playoff opponents, and both are at home in primetime — Rams (Week 1) and Steelers (Week 15).

The Raiders also avoid a trip to Seattle, hosting the Seahawks immediately before their Week 7 bye. They log notable mileage in cross-country jaunts to Miami (Week 3) and Baltimore (Week 12), but they face consecutive road trips only twice all season, and could benefit from a division with two new starting quarterbacks.

Prediction: Under

Consider us in believe-it-when-we-see-it mode when it comes to Gruden’s second act with the Raiders. If returning from such a long coaching layoff isn’t tough enough, he’s insisted on a leading personnel role that’s led to a host of curious decisions out of the gate.

We could envision the offense rebounding swiftly, but there just aren’t enough defensive additions on a unit that’s really struggled of late to project a winning record. Derrick Johnson is unlikely to be the second-level solution Oakland has sought for years, and the draft on ‘D’ was more about potential, not necessarily early production.

Throw in a completely overhauled kicking game on a club with little margin for error and the Raiders could take a page from the Chargers by winding up on the losing end of a lot of close games this season.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

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