Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Jon Gruden and the Raiders look to improve upon a disappointing 2017 season in 2018.

While we’ve known who the Raiders opponents will be in the 2018 NFL Season since New Years Eve 2017, the NFL has finally released every team’s full schedule for the 2018 season. Sure, there’s still the NFL Draft to get through and we haven’t even reached training camp, but let’s analyze how the 2018 schedule stacks up for Jon Gruden and the Oakland soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.

Week 1: Los Angeles Rams (Monday Night Football, 7:20 p.m. PST, Monday September 10th)

Week 2: at Denver Broncos (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 16th)

Week 3: at Miami Dolphins (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 23rd)

Week 4: Cleveland Browns (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday September 30th)

Week 5: at Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 7th)

Week 6: Seattle Seahawks (10:00 a.m. PST, Sunday October 14th in London)

Week 7: Bye

Week 8: Indianapolis Colts (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 28th)

Week 9: at San Francisco 49ers (Thursday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Thursday November 1st)

Week 10: Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 11th)

Week 11: at Arizona Cardinals (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 18th)

Week 12: at Baltimore Ravens (10 a.m. PST, Sunday November 25th)

Week 13: Kansas City Chiefs (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday December 2nd)

Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Sunday December 9th)

Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 16th)

Week 16: Denver Broncos (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Monday December 24th)

Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 30th)

Once again, the NFL has not been kind to the Raiders schedule. It’s not like they have much of a choice, however. Especially after owner Mark Davis pillaged Las Vegas for nearly a billion dollars in public funds for their new stadium in Las Vegas and begged the NFL to move there, the Raiders are at the whim of the league and their scheduling. 

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The Raiders brass faces an uphill to start the season in 2018.

They begin the season away from home for four out of the first six weeks of the season. This includes divisional clashes against the Broncos and Chargers, and a trip to South Beach against the Dolphins. One of the recurring themes of the Raiders schedule since 2014 is effectively losing a home game in Oakland to play a “home” game internationally, and this year their reward is to play the earliest scheduled London game in Week 6 against the Seahawks. Sure, the Raiders have international appeal due to their global brand, but taking away yet another home game from the soon to be abandoned Oakland fans adds insult to injury.

To end the season, the Raiders face divisional foes three out of their last five games, including two tilts against the Chiefs and a Christmas Eve battle against the Broncos. They also face two tough AFC North foes in the final five weeks, with their historical rival in the Steelers coming to town in what could be a potential playoff match-up and a grind it out early kickoff against the Bengals. This stretch could make or break the Raiders playoff aspirations, and they must take care of business in their final divisional games and stand up to the bullies of the AFC North.

In regards to marquee time slots, the Raiders appear on prime-time television four times in 2018, down from the five nationally televised games last season. They’ll get exposure on all three prime-time time slots, with two home game Monday Night Football tilts against west coast rivals in the Rams and Broncos, a road battle of the Bay Area on Thursday Night Football against the 49ers, and a Sunday Night a Football slugfest against the Steelers.

After a disappointing 2017 that perhaps had too much unwarranted hype going into it, the Raiders should improve upon last season’s disastrous campaign. Yes, the defense may have to bend and not break once again, but 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Kahlil Mack, can anchor this defense, and should receive a contract extension at some point before the start of the regular season. Quarterback Derek Carr is a franchise player who regressed to the mean last year, and should bounce back under the tutelage of Jon Gruden. Adding veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson should help wide receiver Amari Cooper regain his Pro-Bowl form, and the one two punch of running backs Marshawn Lynch and free agent acquisition Doug Martin should result in a potent running attack. Mark Davis can only hope his ten year, $100 million investment in Jon Gruden pans out in year one of the second Chucky era. By the looks of the 2018 schedule, the Raiders should be able to contend for the postseason, but as always, it’ll be a grind for the Silver and Black. 

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Jon Gruden: The Return

Sorry Jack, Chucky’s back.

Back in 1998, then Raiders renegade owner, the late Al Davis, made a bold head coaching move. He fired coach Joe Bugel after a terrible 4-12 season, the Raiders worst season since 1987, in favor of a young, fiery, unknown commodity by the name of Jon Gruden. Gruden was a hit with the Raider Nation, embodying the eccentric fan base to a T. The fans showed their adoration for the coach by bestowing him the nickname of “Chucky”, the killer doll and horror icon from the Child’s Play franchise.

Jon Gruden roams the sidelines during his first tenure with the Oakland Raiders.

Gruden’s tenure with the Raiders was immensely successful, posting a 38-26 record in 4 seasons as the Raiders head coach, and guiding them to the AFC Championship game in 2000. His stint with the Raiders came to an abrupt end, however, when Raiders lost in controversial fashion in what is now known as “The Tuck Rule Game” against the New England Patriots. Gruden lost a power struggle with owner Al Davis, the same man who had hired him to lead the Raiders to the promised land. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a king’s ransom, including Tampa Bay’s 2002 and 2003 first round draft picks, their 2002 and 2004 second round draft picks, and $8 million in cash.

A joyous Jon Gruden hoists the Lombardi Trophy after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated his former team, the Oakland Raiders, 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Gruden made Davis pay for his move, as the Buccaneers blew out the Raiders the next season in Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21. Gruden’s next six seasons as head coach of the Bucs weren’t nearly as successful, posting a 45-51 record, appearing in the playoffs twice, and no playoff victories. He was fired at the end of the 2008 season after a season ending loss, which knocked Tampa out of the playoffs, to the same Raiders that had traded him away six years earlier. Ironic.

Jon Gruden looking underwhelmed during a press conference while head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It didn’t take long for Gruden to land on his feet, as he was soon announced as the color commentator for ESPN’s flagship sporting event, Monday Night Football, and remained in that role for nine years. Gruden’s star power emerged even more during this time, as he was not only praised for his commentary inside the booth, but began hosting rookie QBs ahead of the NFL Draft in “Gruden’s QB Camp.” He starred in commercials for Corona and Hooters as well, and seemed like a man who was comfortable living his life without the stresses and pressures of coaching in the NFL. But the 3:17 a.m. wake-up calls and itch to coach again never left Chucky, and teams, both in the NFL and the NCAA, seemingly pursued him every offseason. But Jon didn’t feel the time was right to return. Until now.

Jon Gruden during a broadcast of ESPN’S Monday Night Football.

Following a colossally disappointing 6-10 season for the Raiders, a season in which before it began many believed Oakland would appear in the Super Bowl, head coach Jack Del Rio was fired. The team’s star QB, Derek Carr, lost confidence. The offense under the guidance of first year offensive coordinator Todd Downing looked broken. The Raiders had massively underachieved. Before Del Rio could even announce he was fired, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortenson reported Jon Gruden was set to return to the Black Hole, where his head coaching career began. Nearly 10 days later, Jon Gruden was introduced as the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

“This is a big effing deal,” proclaimed Raiders owner Mark Davis at the introductory press conference. It absolutely is. Gruden’s contract is reportedly for 10 years and $100 million dollars. Mark Davis knew he had to make a splash and keep scorned Oakland Raider fans invested in the lame duck franchise for the next two years while they remained in Oakland before bolting to Las Vegas. The fate of the franchise depended on it.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis needed to make a splash head coaching hire for his “lame-duck” franchise or risk losing fans before the team’s move to Las Vegas.

It helps, however, Jon Gruden believes he has unfinished business with the Raiders, as he invoked horrific memories of his final game as a Raider, “The Tuck Rule” game. “(Tom) Brady fumbled that ball,” Gruden stated. He went on to say, “Yeah, there is unfinished business as a coach. I was traded, I was fired. I’ve missed the game terribly. But I’ve really missed the Raiders. And for my career to end on that night in New England? It still ticks me off. I’m just so thrilled to be back here.”

Jon’s love for the fanbase and the city of Oakland was also prevalent throughout the press conference. “A big reason why I’m here is my passion for the city of Oakland and this franchise. And the people in the Black Hole, if you’re out there listening. I can’t wait to see you guys, man. I really can’t.”, Gruden stated. While Gruden may have 100 million little reason as to why he’s back, it’s clear he wants to be a Raider again, and wants to deliver a winning football team to the city of Oakland before loading the moving trucks. So much of the love letter to Oakland in the wake of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas has seemed like a PR strategy, as evidenced by the acquisition of retired RB Marshawn Lynch, a native of Oakland, last offseason. But Jon Gruden epitomizes the Raiders and the East Bay’s attitude, so his adoration for the city and the franchise seems genuine.

Gruden didn’t make any promises in regards to producing a winner on the field, however, stating “I’m gonna do everything I can, no guarantees, no promises, but I want to win.” The Raiders will have to find a way to repair their offense, and must greatly improve their defense as well. Gruden seems to have taken steps in those directions already, as he announced Rams QB coach Greg Olson and Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will be the offensive and defensive coordinators respectively.

It’s not often former head coaches come back to the NFL and succeed, only Dick Vermeil won a Super Bowl with the then St. Louis Rams in 1999 after taking a hiatus from coaching. It’s not like the Raiders have had much success at bringing back old coaches either, as evidenced by Art Shell. After coaching the team from 1989 through 1994 during their Los Angeles days, Shell was re-hired to coach the team in 2006, yielding a disastrous 2-14 campaign, their worst in franchise history.  History may not be on Gruden’s side, but the time was right to come back. “I just, in my heart feel this is the thing to do. This is what I want to do. This is the organization that I want to be a part of, and I’m all in.”, Gruden said.

Jon Gruden and the Raiders won the press conference. They’ve riled-up the Raider Nation and have them believing 2018 will be their year. They have reason to believe Gruden can guide the team back to championship contention despite his near decade-long absence from coaching. Win, lose, or tie, Jon Gruden will be a member of the Raider Nation forever, but only time will tell if Mark Davis’ desperate hire will pay dividends within the next 10 years. Much like at a high stakes poker table in a Las Vegas casino, Mark Davis is all-in on Jon Gruden.

Jon Gruden and Mark Davis pose for a photo after Gruden’s introductory press conference at the Raiders headquarters in Alameda, California on January 9th, 2018.

 

 

The Curse of the Quarterback Contract Extentsion

Forget the Madden Curse, it’s all about the curse of QB contract extensions.

In a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, the Oakland soon to be Las Vegas Raiders signed franchise quarterback Derek Carr to a 5 year, $125 million contract extension. That averages out to $25 million annually, and includes $40 million in guaranteed money. Carr undoubtedly deserved the extension, as through three NFL seasons he has amassed 11,194 passing yards and thrown for 81 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 87.9. However, history has shown many quarterbacks have struggled the next season after receiving a contract extension. Such examples include:

Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams: 6 years for $62.5 Million

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Rams QB Marc Bulger fell off a cliff after receiving his contract extension during the 2007 offseason.

Bulger signed this extension after the 2006 season, where he threw for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 92.9. The next season, Bulger threw for only 2,392 yards, 11 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 70.3. Bulger never came close to living up to the extension, as he was released after the 2009 season and finished up his career backing up Joe Flacco for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.

David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars: 6 years for $60 Million

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QB David Garrard never lived up to his contract extension after leading the Jaguars to the playoffs in 2007.

In 2007, David Garrard threw for 2,509 yards, 18 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 102.2 while leading the Jaguars to the AFC Divisional playoff round. Garrard was then rewarded with this contract extension, similar to the one the aforementioned Marc Bulger received. In a 2008 season that saw the Jags have lofty Super Bowl aspirations, Garrard threw for just 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and the Jaguars finished 5-11, good for last place in the AFC South.

Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs: 6 years for $62.7 Million

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Matt Cassel was supposed to be the QB of the future for the Chiefs.

Matt Cassel threw for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 89.4 in 2008 for the New England Patriots with Tom Brady injured. This was enough for the Kansas City Chiefs to trade for him and sign him to a new contract, as the Chiefs thought they had finally found their franchise quarterback. The Chiefs went 4-12 in 2009, and Cassel threw for 2,924 yards, 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 69.9. While Cassel did earn a Pro-Bowl bid and led the Chiefs to an AFC West Divisional title in 2010, Cassel never came close to matching his supposed worth, as he was cut after the 2012 season after struggling mightily in 2011 and 2012.

Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: 6 years for $120.6 Million

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Joe Flacco’s status as an elite QB has come into question after a couple of mediocre seasons after winning the Super Bowl in 2012.

To be fair, Joe Flacco was coming off a postseason in which he threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions on his way to a Super Bowl victory with the Baltimore Ravens. He had made it to 3 AFC Championship Games since 2008 and was legitimately deserving of a new deal after the 2012 season. Unfortunately, the 2013 season saw Flacco and the Ravens experience a Super Bowl hangover, as Flacco threw 22 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 73.1. The Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the postseason that year, and have only made it to the postseason once since signing Flacco to that extension.

Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: 6 years for $108 Million

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QB Tony Romo got chance after chance after chance, and only won 1 playoff game after his monster extension.

Tony Romo already holds the mantel of the most overrated quarterback in NFL history because his stats were admittedly astounding for fantasy football geeks and he played for “America’s Team.” This led to Owner/ GM of the Cowboys Jerry Jones to give his illegitimate son this massive contract extension after two straight seasons of Romo choking in the final game of the regular season that could’ve put the Cowboys in the playoffs. 2013 saw him gag important games against the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers (*the Cowboys blew a 23-point lead and Matt Flynn started for the Packers that game*) and the Cowboys missed the playoffs. While Romo did lead the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and an appearance in the NFC Divisional Playoff round in 2014, injuries and Dak Prescott prevented Romo from playing out the rest of his contract, and he is now the lead color commentator for CBS.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: 7 years for $126 Million

NFL: Chicago Bears at New England Patriots
QB Jay Cutler had a lot of talent, but it never amounted to much considering his contract extension from the Bears after the 2013 season.

Although the Bears hadn’t made it to the postseason for the third straight season, Jay “My arm is bigger than John Elway’s” Cutler signed this massive contract extension after the 2013 season. The Bears went on to finish 5-11 in 2014, and Cutler was run out of town and the league after the 2016 season amid questions about his leadership abilities. He is now a color commentator for Fox.

While Carr is most certainly better than many of the quarterbacks listed here and the Raiders are better than the teams those quarterbacks played for, Raiders fans should be somewhat concerned about the 2017 season. History indicates many quarterbacks struggle the season after they receive a contract extension, and Carr could be the next victim of this curse. Factor in the fact that the Raiders’ schedule is already one of the toughest in the league, Super Bowl expectations, and the looming move to Las Vegas into the equation, and the 2017 season could turn out to be a major letdown for the silver and black. This may not be the Curse of the Bambino, the Billy Goat Curse, or even the Curse of the Black Pearl, but the Curse of Quarterback Contract Extensions looms large over the Raiders’ 2017 season.

 

Bro-Commentary: The Raiders Move to Las Vegas

Las Vegas Raiders. Let that sink in.Las Vegas Raiders Football

I was born a Raider. I bleed silver and black. I remember the sinking feeling I had when the Raiders lost to the New England Patriots in the infamous “Tuck Rule” game in the 2001 Divisional Playoffs that birthed a dynasty. I remember tuning in to Super Bowl 37 and watching the Raiders get crushed by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I remember the feeling I got every Sunday from 2003 until 2015 expecting the Raiders to lose. “Just Win, Baby” became “Just Lose, Baby”, as the Raiders became synonymous with losing.

None of those feelings compare to the one I have now with the news that the Oakland Raiders are no more. They are now the Las Vegas Raiders. On Monday, the Raiders received conditional approval from the NFL to relocate from Oakland, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. They received “yes” votes from every owner in the NFL with the exception of Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins. Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement the Raiders plan on playing at the Oakland Coliseum for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, as the new stadium in Las Vegas is not set to open until 2020.

The city of Oakland took a hard stance in new stadium negotiations throughout the last decade or so, refusing to use public funds to pay for a new stadium. Oakland made a last ditch effort to keep the Raiders by sending the NFL a revised $1.3 billion stadium proposal. On Saturday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave an impassioned speech in which she pleaded to the NFL to keep the Raiders in Oakland. I was moved by her speech. I couldn’t help but feel this was a woman who wanted to see the city of Oakland, the birthplace of the Raiders, keep their beloved football team. However, this was a move just to save face. It was an 11th hour PR strategy. The very definition of a Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds in the fourth quarter. She could have done more. Oakland could have done more. They lacked the urgency to do more.

One can hardly blame the Raiders for their decision. The city of Las Vegas put up $750 million in public funds from a hotel tax to build a new stadium. That number could be $950 million when accounting for the extra $200 million in public funds that suddenly became available over the weekend. Las Vegas ponied up. Whatever the Raiders needed, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval provided it. Governor Sandoval had the political power to do so. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf didn’t. There was no alternative for the Raiders. Las Vegas was the only option on the table. The Raiders had to go all in. The move resulted in a payout larger than one you’d see at any of the Las Vegas casinos.

Mark Davis also said in a statement Monday that his father and former Raiders owner, the late Al Davis, once told him ” ‘the greatness in the raiders is in its future.’ ” That future no longer includes Oakland. Losing the Oakland in the Raiders name just doesn’t feel right. No matter what decade you were playing the Oakland Raiders, you knew you were in for a rough afternoon. Oakland epitomizes the toughness, grit, and win at any cost mentality that everyone came to know the Raiders by. Even in an age where techies are gentrifying the city, Oakland still maintains its blue collar identity, the same one everybody also came to know the Raiders for. Even when they moved to Los Angeles in 1982 those same qualities remained. Something about putting Las Vegas in front of the Raiders’ team name just seems wrong. Sure, the jersey colors, players, and logo will remain, but those aforementioned qualities get lost once Las Vegas is stamped onto the team’s name.

The Raiders will always have the classic Al Davis-isms. Commitment to excellence. Just win, baby. But it’s the “autumn wind” anthem that is perhaps the most apt description of how the whole Las Vegas saga has unfolded. “The autumn wind is a Raider. Pillaging just for fun. He’ll knock you ’round and upside down, And laugh when he’s conquered and won.” That wind no longer blows in Oakland. It’s the Raider Nation that’s been pillaged, knocked ’round and upside down. Mark Davis can now laugh that he has conquered and won his new stadium, but it comes at the expense of a city and fan base that has now lost its team twice. Even with all of my disappointment and heartbreak with the news of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, I can’t help but fall back on this phrase: Win lose or tie, Raider Nation till I die.