Training Camp is here Raider Nation, and even though we have yet to see Khalil Mack, there is still plenty to be excited about for the 2018 season.
If you’ve been following our way too early look at the upcoming season, you know we have the Raiders at 8-4 heading into the final four games of the season. Let’s take a look at how they will finish and whether it will be enough to put the Silver and Black back in the playoffs.
Week 14 vs. Steelers – A Rivalry Renewed
The longtime Raiders nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers will roll into Oakland for a week 14 Sunday Night Football primetime matchup. This game has playoff implications written all over it. There’s no doubt the Steelers will be at the top of the AFC North once again. The question is where will the two teams sit in the standings as they both make a playoff push? This game could go a long way in determining playoff seeds.
The Steelers will once again be a force on offense with their version of the three-headed monster. The leader in the huddle is six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Despite his off-season hints at retirement the last couple years, “Big Ben” has been a fixture as one of the elite signal callers in the NFL for over a decade. He eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing total (4,251) for the 5th time in his career last year and added 28 touchdowns including a 97-yarder to Juju Smith Schuster.
His favorite target though is wide receiver, Antonio Brown. Brown has established himself as hands-down the top receiver in the NFL. He led the league last season with 1,533 yards receiving (in only 14 games) on 101 receptions, and added nine touchdowns. Brown has the ability to stretch the field better than any wideout in the NFL.
The bell cow (no pun intended) of the offense is big running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell is playing for the big contract extension that Pittsburgh and he were unable to agree on. No doubt we will see the best from him this season. Bell finished last season with career highs in rushing attempts (321), touchdowns (9), and receptions (85). That’s an insane amount of grabs for someone coming out of the backfield. Perhaps the Steelers are afraid of him wearing down with such a heavy workload, but there’s no doubt as to just how important he is to that offense.
The Oakland Raiders defense will no doubt have their hands full with all of those numbers staring them in their face. Rashaad Melvin was the one guy who was able to shut Brown down last season, holding him to just two receptions and 43 yards. The middle of the Raiders line should be able to clog things up for the sometimes overly patient Brown, and if the linebackers stay disciplined, it could be a long day for the talented back. Getting pressure on Roethlisberger is big, but bringing the 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback to the ground is key. If the Raiders can get Ben moving, he will make mistakes trying to keep a play alive. Turnovers will be the deciding factor in this old-school rivalry.
No immaculate receptions in this one. Raiders win it under the lights, 27-24.
Week 15 @ Cincinnati – Guenther’s Return
For the second week in a row, the Raiders will play an AFC North opponent, time traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. I don’t like this game at all. The Raiders will be coming off the huge SNF win vs Pittsburgh and have to travel to Cincinnati for another 10 am game in frigid weather. This game also falls right in between maybe the two biggest home games of the season (SNF vs PITT, MNF vs DEN). To quote the late Admiral Ackbar of Star Wars fame: It’s a trap!
The Bengals weren’t good last season, especially on offense. But more of that was due to scheme than personnel. This team probably won’t make the playoffs, but they can be an 8-8 or 9-7 team and be in the race till the end.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are still one of the best duos in football. Joe Mixon showed flashes of greatness at the running back spot last season and is poised for a big sophomore season. This offense is capable of putting up big numbers as long as their offensive line can keep Dalton upright.
After four seasons as the Bengals defensive coordinator, Guenther joins the Oakland Raiders and will be on the opposing sideline when he returns to Cincinnati. The Bengals defense still has all the pieces to be dangerous. Vontez Burfict will be suspended for the first four games of the season but will be the man in the middle when the Raiders come to town. Burfict is a knucklehead, but when he plays under control he is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap have eight Pro Bowls between them and the Bengals secondary continues to be one of the better units around.
Despite the “Guenther effect,” I don’t think the Raiders come out of Cincinnati with a win. This is a look ahead spot and a bad matchup in the early morning in the cold. Another grind it out kind of game could spell trouble for the tired Raiders. Every team has a couple games each season where they look like they just never got off the bus, and this will be one of those games for Oakland.
Bengals win and keep their playoff hopes alive, 17-13.
Week 16 vs. Denver Broncos – Cash in on Christmas
Raiders. Broncos. Christmas Eve. Monday Night Football – does it get any better than this?
The Raiders will return to Oakland for their final regular season home game. This is the fourth and final prime-time game for the Raiders, and second in a row at home. The Black Hole will be rockin’ and Santa will be dressed in Silver and Black for this high-profile throwdown. Not too many games have the volume attached to them like when the Broncos roll into Oakland, and this one will be no different.
Unlike the first meeting between these teams in Week 2, the Broncos will not be an easy pushover. Case Keenum will look like a much different quarterback than he did at the start of the season. I still don’t think they will be a top-tier offense, however. They will have to rely heavily on the defense as they have for the last several years. Turnovers and field position will be the things that make this offense go. The defense will continue to be at the top of the NFL, especially with the addition of rookie defensive end Bradley Chubb. Chubb was touted as the top edge rusher in the 2018 NFL draft. If he and Miller can stay healthy, they will be one of the top pass rushing duos in the league.
Once again, the key for the Raiders is the offensive tackle positions. We assume the two spots will be solidified by week 16 (they better be), and they will have the honor of keeping Carr clean vs a killer pass rush.
Offensively, I see the Raiders taking away the Broncos strength with a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and company. Keep the edge guys guessing and don’t let them pin their ears back and get to Carr. If the Raiders can run the ball effectively and stay out of 3rd and long, it will be a long night for the Denver defense.
Expect the Raiders defense to do enough to hold off a late charge by the Broncos. With a crazed crowd behind them, the Raiders close out the regular season home schedule with a 23-16 win over the Broncos.
Week 17 @ Kansas City Chiefs – Attack in Arrowhead
The Raiders finish the season in Kansas City against bitter rivals the Chiefs. It seems like they always finish the season in the frigid cold of Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are not going to be the top team in the AFC West this year. That doesn’t mean they won’t be playing for something in December. They still have a talented team and will no doubt be fighting for a wild-card playoff spot. They will also be playing their biggest rival in their home finale.
The Raiders will need this game to have a chance at winning the division. The Chargers are the team to beat and they will be neck and neck with Oakland all season. The Chiefs would like nothing more than to play spoiler to the hated silver and black.
I don’t think Patrick Mahomes will have command of the offense in the same way that Alex Smith did, but he should be more than comfortable by week 17. Tight end Travis Kelce is a perennial thorn in the side of the Raiders defense, especially at home. And I always have a bad feeling when Tyreek Hill gets going in Arrowhead.
Hill will be the x-factor at home once again. He can stretch the field as well as anyone and is a threat to break every punt he gets hits hands on. Unfortunately for the Raiders, he will break one in week 17.
The Chiefs close out the 2018 season with a 23-20 win dropping the Raiders to 10-6 on the season.
Raiders Season Record: 10-6
Is 10-6 enough for the AFC West division title? Probably not. The Chargers are the team to beat in 2018. I do think that 10 wins are enough to put the Oakland Raiders back in the playoffs as a wild card on the road.
Jon Gruden’s first year back on the sidelines will have its ups and downs, but it will be a winning season. That’s something the Raiders have only done once (2016) since the last time he was the head coach.