Raider Realist
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FSM Presents: The Raider Realist – Great Expectations

Franchise Sports Media


“Knowing where the trap is—that’s the first step in evading it.”–Frank Herbert, “Dune”


Photo Credit: Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever had a couple of personal or professional projects where you felt one was clearly more challenging than the other? So you built your energy up to take care of the one you felt was the more significant burden in your heart, only to be blindsided by what the project had in store for you?

I have. And over the last couple of years, so have the Oakland and (now) Las Vegas Raiders. More than any other team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2016, the Raiders have shown the capability to go anywhere and not just compete but beat the best teams in the National Football League. That is an accomplishment of the Jon Gruden regime.

The flip side is that the Raiders have also shown an ability to get blown out by teams to whom they had no business losing. To be frank, the one thing this franchise has demonstrated in the last two years plus two games is that the only thing at which they have been consistent is being inconsistent. Honestly, you could stretch that out for a lot longer, but I want to crystallize and distill everything down to the last couple of years.

Why? Because the Raiders have jumped out of the gate reasonably well in both 2019 and 2020. They were 6-4 in 2019 and 6-3 in 2020. While they did have absolute deficiencies – particularly on the defensive side of the ball – those late-season collapses were right in line with a theme of Jon Gruden’s overall run as a head coach since his first season in 1998. In other words, Gruden’s teams have not been defined by how well they have started but by how they finish.


So while I am absolutely excited about two big-time wins over the Baltimore Ravens at home, then on the road off of a short week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the undercurrent of dread that exists within me as a Raiders fan is still there.


Raider Realist
Photo Credit: The Phinsider

It only takes one no-show of a performance for that work to go flying right out of those beautiful lanai doors at Allegiant Stadium.

With the certainty that comes from being a Raiders fan for 36 years, I can say Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins is the most important one this franchise has played in nearly five years. Without question.

Unlike the last couple of years, a win would show that this team is not a roller coaster in pads. This team is not like a chaotic relationship where things are consistently up and down, and you don’t know which version you are getting each time you see them.

No. To go 3-0 against a team that just got absolutely spanked and will be desperate to bounce back would show, not just themselves or Raider Nation, but the rest of the football world at large, that the Raiders are not just a nice early-season story. They are simply a good football team.

In many ways, the virtue that is genuinely the most undervalued and overlooked in modern society is consistency. One that might not always attempt to stand out or flame out is not always attention-seeking or dramatic but reliably gets the job done. Unfortunately, no one really appreciates that. You can see it across sports. Players like Tim Duncan are/were considered boring. Well, speaking for myself, winning is never boring. And the reason why the Raiders are often accused of causing their fan base heart problems is that we simply do not expect them to win consistently.

And that brings me back to this upcoming game Sunday afternoon. The stadium should be close to packed again, and the fans should be rocking. What I want to see is the same consistency of effort and execution. For a team that has had one single solitary trip to the postseason in 19 years, the Raiders far too often make the mistake of thinking they can just show up against certain opponents. Well, that better not be the case here. Miami is more than capable of beating this team. Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, no team has consistently done that more in the last 15-20 years than the Dolphins.

That includes the most typical Raiders loss of the 2020 season when, somehow, the defense allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete a deep pass while committing an insane 15-yard personal foul penalty with Miami out of timeouts and just 19 seconds left in the game. Yes, I know almost all of that history was in Oakland. Great. But the fact remains, the Raiders have not won a home game against the Miami Dolphins since the 27-0 shutout win in the AFC Divisional Playoffs during the 2000 season.


So before we go anointing this team as one ready to contend for a title or claim the defense has truly turned some invisible corner, let us wait and see how this team performs when the burden of expectation is about them winning and not hoping to be frisky while losing.


Raiders vs Steelers
Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There have been too many instances where Gruden’s Raiders simply have not accepted the opportunity to be successful in the last two years. That is not conjecture; that is a fact.

This game represents a real chance to draw a line in the sand for the second coming of Jon Gruden. Win here and start telling the world all that stuff about December flameouts and poor personnel decisions and bad defense and not loving Derek Carr – you know all the stuff the national media says – is snuffed out. History also says teams that start 3-0, well, they tend to make the playoffs.

That is the opportunity at hand. Greatness is not just about who you beat; it is also about not losing to teams you should beat. More than that, it is doing what you are expected to do. If this is the team I predicted it to be, they will handle their business Sunday.

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