Yes, it’s only June. But our own Matt Gutierrez takes a look at the Raiders first four games of the 2018 schedule and gives us an early look how Gruden’s new-look Raiders will fare.
There won’t be any on-field activity for the Raiders until training camp starts in Napa Valley six weeks from now, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking at the season ahead and making some bold – and not so bold – predictions on what we can expect from the Raiders in 2018 as they roll through the first quarter of their schedule.
THE GRUDEN HATERS WILL BE LOUD EARLY
The biggest news of the Raiders off-season was the hiring of former head coach Jon Gruden. He was given a 10-year, $100 million contract to return to Oakland, and that money means expectations will be high right from the start. That kind of money doesn’t buy you much of a grace period in the eyes of fans and media. Gruden is expected to win and win big right away. While the schedule isn’t overly daunting, it starts off with a difficult matchup for the Raiders.
Going back to 2010, the Raiders have had only one season (2016) which they started above .500. It was also the only winning season (12-4) they’ve had since their Super Bowl run in 2002. In the past eight seasons, the Raiders have a 12-20 September record. They’ve only won three season openers, and all three of those were on the road.
I fully expect the Raiders to be embarrassed in Gruden’s return to the sideline. Opening night will be a disaster for the silver & black.
This season, the Raiders will open their schedule at home on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are expected to be one of the top teams in the NFC and will most likely finish with a top three defense in the league. Not the best opponent for a team installing a new offense, new defense, and taking the field with a new coaching staff for the very first time.
I fully expect the Raiders to be embarrassed in Gruden’s return to the sideline. Opening night will be a disaster for the silver & black. The Rams high powered offense and suffocating defense will be more than the Raiders are prepared to handle in week one.
Oakland will be on the wrong side of a blowout for an opening game once again. The Raiders have played an opening week MNF game five times since the NFL went to the doubleheader format to start the season in 2006, and are 1-4 in those games, including 0-4 at home.
The anti-Gruden contingent will be as loud as ever following week 1. We’ll hear all about how Gruden can’t coach anymore, how the game has passed him by, and how the Raiders are now on the hook for $100 million with no way out. Expect the “hot seat” talk to ramp up once LA comes to Oakland and hands the Raiders a beat down.
SEPTEMBER WON’T BE ALL BAD
Following the Monday night massacre, the Raiders head out on the road for games in Denver and Miami before going back home to face the Cleveland Browns. All three teams are projected to finish under .500 this season.
The Broncos started the 2017 season 3-1 before falling apart and finishing the year with a whimper, going 2-8 to finish the year. Their big off-season acquisition was former Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum started the ’17 season as a backup and took over as the starter when Sam Bradford was injured. Keenum had a nice season in Minnesota, but we’ve all seen this story before.
Look at examples like Derek Anderson, Elvis Grbac, Brock Osweiler, and Matt Flynn. All had some sort of short-lived success in previous stops only to become hugely overpaid busts in their new homes. In the case of Flynn, it was one game in Green Bay when he threw for six touchdowns that earned him a huge payday. Ironically, the Broncos were on the good side of the Osweiler deal when he signed with Houston, not that they didn’t offer him a ton of money to stay in Denver.
Keenum fits the “one-hit wonder” mold to a tee. In his first four NFL seasons, he threw only 24 touchdowns with 20 interceptions before breaking out for 22 TDs and seven interceptions in 2017. His 3,547 yards account for more than 40% of his career total. Expect to see him regress to the mean in 2018.
We all saw what poor QB play did to the Broncos last season. Even with a very good defense, they will be a bad football team again in 2018. The Raiders will get their first win of the season week 2 in Denver.
MAKE IT 2 IN A ROW
The Dolphins are in full rebuild mode after letting players like Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncy go elsewhere. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be healthy, but it won’t be nearly enough to save Miami’s season. The only positive for the Dolphins in 2018 is the return of the Dan Marino era colored jerseys. The Easter green pastel look they’ve sported the last four seasons had to go.
The Dolphins will have a hard time finding more than four wins this coming season.. Even though Oakland has struggled historically in Miami, especially in recent years, I don’t expect any of Miami’s four wins to be against the Raiders.
The east coast trip is never easy for a west coast team, especially when it’s the second of a two-game road trip. This will be an ugly “grind it out” kind of game. Look for a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch (and whoever is backing him up by then). This may become a game of kickers in the South Beach sun. The Raiders will come out of Miami with a hard-fought 20-13 win.
BACK AT HOME, BUT NOT FOR LONG
Finishing up September is a home game vs the Browns. What can we really say other than it’s the Browns? Cleveland has just one win in the last two seasons. They are historically bad. But I do believe things are looking up for the Browns. They will win their share of games this season. The addition of Tyrod Taylor gives them a steady presence at quarterback while number the first overall draft pick of 2018, Baker Mayfield, can sit and learn.
The Steelers will be good, as usual, but the Bengals and Ravens are full of question marks and could take significant steps backward. This may be the opening the Browns have been looking for to finally get in the win column, especially with their favorable last place schedule.
The Black Hole will be rowdy when the Browns come to town. The Raiders will be in full stride a month into the season, and the Browns won’t have enough weapons to keep up with them.
Week 4 will be a madhouse in Oakland. The Raiders should be returning home off a 2-game winning streak. It will also be the last chance the home fans have to see their team in the Coliseum for a month, and only the second time since opening night. The Black Hole will be rowdy when the Browns come to town. The Raiders will be in full stride a month into the season, and the Browns won’t have enough weapons to keep up with them.
This will be a showcase game for the new-look Raiders offense. For the second time in as many games, the Coliseum will be treated to a blowout. Unlike week one of the schedule, the Raiders will be on the right side of the ledger this time. Oakland will be firing on all cylinders as they roll to an easy 31-10 win over the Browns.
Getting off to a good start in a league with a 16-game schedule is paramount to every team’s success. This coming season’s schedule is set up nicely for the Raiders to do just that.
The second Gruden era will have a rocky start, but it won’t take long for him to right the ship. The first quarter of the season, and a more favorable schedule ends with the Raiders sitting at 3-1.