With just over a week left before training camp opens, we head into the third quarter of our very early look at the 2018 Raiders season.
Following a last-second Week 9 loss “in” San Francisco, the Raiders head back to the Coliseum for their third game in a row in the Bay Area. A Week 5 rematch with the division rival Chargers will be a candidate for Game of the Week. Their first game resulted in a physical 20-13 win for LA. This game will be different.
The Chargers will be coming off a loss in Seattle, dropping them to 6-2. This game will be for first place in the division as Oakland passes the halfway point in the season. Unlike their first meeting, I expect the offenses to shine in this one.
The Raiders had trouble in the first meeting getting anything going in the passing game because of the LA pass rush. With five weeks to solidify the right tackle position, the Raiders will have an answer for Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. Look for the Raiders’ play-action game to be in full effect, keeping the Chargers on their heels. The Raiders will even up the season series with a high-scoring victory in Oakland. Raiders 31, Chargers 27.
Week 11 has the Raiders in Arizona for their fourth straight game on the West Ccoast. The Cardinals are not expected to be very competitive this season. Sam Bradford is their new quarterback, and chances are he won’t even be on the field by Week 11. He’s had a hard time staying healthy since getting to the NFL. That leaves the offense in the hands of a rookie first-round pick Josh Rosen. Larry Fitzgerald is 34, and David Johnson is coming off a season-ending injury, albeit a wrist.
The defense lost some key players for the second straight season. Both Tyvon Branch and Tyrann Mathieu are gone from the secondary, along with veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby.
They will struggle to both score and stop other teams from scoring. The Raiders are the more talented team across the board. With former Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer also leaving Arizona, the Raiders’ pressure on a rookie quarterback will be far too much for the Cardinals to handle. The Raiders will run away with this one, 27-3.
If ever there was a game where I thought the Raiders would be as unfocused as humanly possible, Week 12 in Baltimore is it. The Raiders will travel to the Eastern time zone for a 10 a.m. start on Thanksgiving weekend. Even with the motivation of playing against Michael Crabtree, the Raiders will find tough sledding vs. the Ravens.
I don’t think the Ravens will finish the season as a better team than the Raiders, but they will be competitive, especially at home. Their road record hasn’t been great over the last few years, but they did manage to stroll into Oakland last season and hand the Raiders a 13-point loss. As always, the Ravens will have one of the NFL’s better defenses. Along with the early start, holiday weekend and what will most likely be a cold-weather game, the Raiders will struggle to even get off the bus for this one.
Joe Flacco and his ball-control offense will wear down the Raiders defense in the cold, while the Oakland offense will have its worst performance of the season. In a very Ravens-esque style game, the Raiders will fail to find the end zone. Baltimore wins an ugly one, 16-9.
It’s strange the Raiders and Chiefs will have to wait until December for their first meeting of the season. Oakland saw Denver in Week 2, and LA twice in the first nine games. You can look at this as both a positive and a negative. On one hand, the Raiders will be more than comfortable with their new coaches and system by then. On the other hand, the Chiefs will have had plenty of time to get second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes accustomed to playing in the NFL.
Last year’s Thursday night game between the two teams was one of the more entertaining games we’ve seen in the last several years. The Raiders went on an 85-yard drive in the final 2:24, while converting a second-and-20, fourth-and-11, and needing two untimed downs to finally get the 31-30 win.
The guy that made the Chiefs offense go was Alex Smith. KC sent him to DC in a trade. The prevailing theory is that Smith was too conservative, and Mahomes will open up the offense. Yes, Smith is a guy who is willing to make the safer play even if that means hitting a check-down receiver, but don’t confuse that with an inability to score. KC ranked fifth in yards (6007) and sixth in PPG (25.9) last season. To think that a guy who’s played in just one NFL game will come in and have the type of immediate success that Smith had is foolish. Mahomes will struggle throughout the season to protect the football. He loves taking risks and fitting the ball into tight windows. Those types of plays often result in interceptions in the NFL.
Defensive leaders Derrick Johnson (OAK) and Marcus Peters (LAR) are gone as well. Johnson was the unquestioned leader of that defense, both on and off the field. He is the piece the Raiders have needed for years to help limit a guy like Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce. Peters is a turnover creating machine, and while his after-the-whistle antics won’t be missed in KC, his between-the-whistle play will be.
I think the Chiefs will struggle to both sustain drives on offense and get off the field on third downs on defense in 2018. This is a team searching for new leaders on both sides of the ball.
The Raiders’ pass rush will fluster the young Chiefs signal-caller into a three-interception performance in the Black Hole. Not as exciting as last year’s game in Oakland, but still a fun one for the hometown fans. Raiders win their first meeting with the Chiefs, 28-10.
With only four games left in the season, the Raiders are in a dogfight with the LA Chargers atop the AFC West at 8-4. We’ll finish up our season predictions before camp opens next week.