Directed by Trisha Lacoste/Franchise Sports Media

 

 

The Raiders’ season is finally upon us and FSM has commissioned “The Raider Realist” to get Raider Nation ready for the season. FSM’s CJ Baldwin will give fans of the Silver and Black even more to get excited about  as the Raiders are set to play games in front of The Nation at Allegiant Stadium for the first time since moving to Las Vegas.

 

This is not my favorite kind of article, but I mean, why not? It is still August (barely). That means the optimism is at a fever pitch from Raider Nation. How much of it is warranted? Honestly, it might be more than even a realist like myself thinks. So let’s dive in. Here are my thoughts for this year’s Raider team.

 

21 bold predections for the 2021 Raiders:

 

Raiders Season Preview
Photo Credit- Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

1. The defense will not be atrocious. As it has been for the last 19 years with this team, the biggest issue has been porous defense. Last year was the worst defense the Raider franchise ever fielded, allowing an obscene 458 of the 479 total points the team allowed. Defenders looked lost, confused, and bewildered under former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Expect that to change in 2021.

 

 

 

2. However, they will not be outstanding either. At the end of the day, this team still lacks game-changing defensive talent. The roster has improved, mind you, but Yannick Ngakoue, the best defender on the team, last went to the Pro Bowl (his only trip) in 2017. There are still question marks in the interior line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. I expect the defense to finish somewhere between 21st and 24th in scoring – still an upgrade – but just a first step. Having six games in the AFC West against Kansas City, Los Angeles, and an improved Denver offense will not help.

 

3. Maxx Crosby will once again lead the team in sacks. Listen, I like Ngakoue and think he can bounce back here. But teams will be keyed on him if he flashes his old form, and that frees Mad Maxx to get one on ones on the outside, which he should continue to win. So 10 or more sacks is absolutely in play for Crosby.

 

4. Cory Littleton will be improved. The splash-free agent of 2020 is under the radar. Another casualty of the previous defensive scheme, expect Littleton to be better positioned to make some plays. He might not return to the form of his Rams days, but he won’t be running steps behind backs and tight ends that were easily schemed away from him either.

 

Raiders Season Preview
Photo Credit- Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

5. Expect Tre’von Moehrig to be solid, not spectacular. The history of first-year free safeties in Gus Bradley’s system is mixed. Earl Thomas and Derwin James were fantastic. Josh Evans and Tashaun Gipson, not so much. Moehrig is somewhere between those four players, so a couple of interceptions, solid tackling, and inevitable rookie mistakes seem realistic.

 

6. The corners will continue to struggle. Mind you, some of this is because I believe the Raiders’ pass rush will only be marginally better. But ultimately, it again will come down to a pure talent level, and I think the roster is average at best at the position. I am not as high on the Casey Hayward signing, and I never liked the Damon Arnette selection. Trayvon Mullen is the one player who I think is capable of being somewhat of a game-changer outside. Because the team scheme will be so much better by default,  many deficiencies will be masked this year… as a good defense is supposed to do.

 

7. The best player on defense will be Nicholas Morrow. If there is anyone who stands to benefit from this new system, it is the often-overlooked Morrow. His speed and surprising instincts play so well in a Cover 3. Assuming his injury does not linger, and he can play at least 13 games, I could honestly see Morrow as a borderline Pro Bowl selection this year. No, that is not hyperbole. This defense will give him a lot of opportunities to be a playmaker. I think he will be. Ngakoue has the most talent; Morrow makes the biggest impact.

 

8. The defense will generate more turnovers. Once again, not exactly a high bar to climb, given the Raiders were 30th in the league with just 15 total. However, part of the benefit of a better system is players being around the ball more, and that, by proxy, creates more opportunities for takeaways. The simple law of averages says this team will have a modest bump, around 20 generated this year. This right here is the key. The more they can take the ball away, the better the chances for the team to be more than just pretty good.

 

9. Derek Carr will finish top five in NFL MVP voting. Please write it down, put it in a frame, take it for data. This will be Carr’s signature season. The thing that is going under the radar is just how loaded this offense is. Remember, the 2020 team scored all 434 points, which is the most in the franchise’s history on the offensive side (the 1983, 2000, and 2002 teams all scored defensive and special teams points). And for the first time, the maligned franchise quarterback has a fourth year in the same system. It is going to be lights out offensively for this team.

 

10. Darren Waller makes his first All-Pro team. He should have in 2020. But the silly rule about voting gave Travis Kelce a unanimous selection, and Waller could not be second team with no votes. Well, that will not happen again in 2021. He is, hands down, the hub of this offense. Everything revolves around him. And not since Tim Brown in the mid-90s has the Raiders offense featured a weapon this unstoppable.

 

Raiders Season Preview
Photo Credit- Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

11. Henry Ruggs III will make more of an impact than Bryan Edwards. Hot take alert! Understand my logic here. I think Edwards is easily better than his 11/175 and one touchdown rookie season. But the word I used was impact. Ruggs will be entrusted to be the main receiver to pick up the slack left by the departed Nelson Agholor. That simply means more downfield shots for the blazer from Alabama. I think Ruggs crosses the 60-catch mark and threatens 1000 yards in a big year two jump. Edwards will be good, but Carr will designate many of his targets to Waller.

 

12. The fears of the offensive line are overblown. No, that does not mean I was okay with the losses of Rodney Hudson, Trent Brown, and Gabe Jackson. But, considering Brown only played five games in 2020, this team was already used to playing without him. Hudson is a big loss but was in decline in the run game the last two years. And Jackson was not good enough to justify keeping at the cap number ($9.6 million last year) he commanded. The reason I say all of this is not because Andre James, Denzelle Good, and rookie first-rounder Alex Leatherwood are better overall players. No. But what they do represent is an athletic upgrade to help re-establish the outside zone run game that made the 2019 team so dynamic, and they protect one of the quickest releases of the football in the game in Carr. You can bet head coach and offensive coordinator Jon Gruden has factored this into his play calling and game planning.

 

13. Josh Jacobs returns to form. Jacobs, behind a more athletic line, is going to be quite nice. Interestingly, even in 2019, the O-line was dealing with injuries as players like Jordan Devey were pressed into service. And much like this revamped starting line, what they lacked overall, they did have an ability to block outside. So much of Jacobs’ success two years ago came from the ability to press the outside and then cut back for big gains. Injuries took almost all of that away in 2020. And Jacobs suffered from predictable run calls by being stopped for losses on 22 rushes, more than double his 2019 season. If just that number returned to form, Jacobs averages over four yards per carry. He will be just fine.

 

14. Kenyan Drake will not be worth the money. To me, paying a backup running back just roughly $250,000 less than your starter means you should expect roughly the same production from that player. The brass tacks are, Gruden has always used the backup running back as a backup. Someone to spell the starter. Someone with a specific job. In a way, Drake has been telegraphed. His offensive ‘package’ ensures he will be keyed on during games, taking away the ability to catch teams off guard as Devontae Booker did in 2020. Drake is not going to stink. But I think many people think he will have huge splash plays and take the top off defenses, and historically, that has not happened in a Gruden offense.

 

15. The offense again scores over 400 points. In the grand scheme of things in the new NFL, 400 points seems average, given that teams literally scored an average of 397 points last year, by far the league record. But context matters. The Raiders as a franchise have never scored 400 points in back-to-back years. As a matter of fact, the team has scored that amount just four times: 1983, 2000, 2002, and 2020. The 2001 team just missed the mark by a single solitary point, but 399 is not 400. As such, assuming that the offense is going to be better than the 2020 version is dangerous. For all the hand-wringing about Carr’s fumbling and the issues in the red zone, the 2020 Raiders set the franchise record for offensive points. And unlike 2017, there is no coordinator change and no outside distractions. As a result, this offense will be really, really good, assuming they stay healthy.

 

Raiders Season Preview
Photo Credit- Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

16. December will be better (finally). If there is one true Achilles heel for Jon Gruden, it is the month of December. Since his first season as a head coach in 1998, his teams have gone 26-41 in the December and occasional early January regular-season months. That includes a 5-10 mark in his first three seasons back with the Raiders. The last two December swoons have cost the Raiders a postseason chance in both 2019 and 2020. What I think bodes well for this version of his team is what wore down the last two: Depth. Both sides of the ball are much better equipped to absorb losses to personnel than they have been. That and the fact that it will continue to be a point made each time the Raiders face a loss helps to offset the effects of past failures. It is not even the schedule as much as the ability to face it that gives this team a better shot.

 

17. Kansas City will sweep again. Sorry to take some of the air out of the balloon, but again, reality bites. And the hard reality has been since the Chiefs returned to prominence in 1990 as a consistent winning franchise, they have dominated this matchup, going an absurd 46-15 against the Raiders in that time span. But what stands out in that dominance is this simple truth: In the last 31 seasons, the Raiders have never once beaten the Chiefs in back-to-back seasons when Kansas City has had consecutive winning records. Meaning, the years the Raiders managed to win (1999-2002 and 2007-2011) at least one game in successive years, the Chiefs never had back-to-back winning seasons. And I highly doubt they are going 7-9 this year.

 

18. However, the Raiders will sweep the Chargers and Broncos. Teddy Bridgewater and second-year Justin Herbert – I respect them both, but I’m wary either will produce enough to mitigate deficiencies elsewhere. The Raiders have quietly had Denver’s number, and the Chargers know how to Charger like no other. Just a hunch, but I feel good about this one.

 

19. Fans at Allegiant Stadium will make a difference. Re-watching the games in 2020, you could see a clear lack of energy and focus from the Raiders, especially on defense. Football is the most emotional team sport in America, and not having that energy, even from fans of other teams, affected Las Vegas in year one. Just from anecdotal observation, the noise level was palpable even in the preseason. Considering that so many home games were either lost or got away in the 4th quarter, this is absolutely no small thing. Just the upgrade from 2-6 to 5-4 would have had the Raiders right on the cusp of the postseason with a 17 game schedule last year. Raider Nation is absolutely ready. Well, most of Raider Nation. I will ‘mask’ who I am talking about, but you have a pretty good ‘shot’ at figuring it out. Moving on.

 

Monday Morning Beef - Jon Gruden
Photo Credit: Terrence Quaites- Franchise Sports Media

20. The Raiders finish 11-6 and make the postseason. And there it is. Going on record and saying the Raiders surprise most of the established football press and win 11 games and earn a wildcard playoff spot. The fifth seed, to be exact. Yeah yeah, I am sipping Silver and Black Kool-aid.

 

21. The Raiders win their first postseason game in 19 years. This just feels like the time for this team. It reminds me of the 1991 Dallas Cowboys. There are a lot of good pieces, but they need something to coalesce over. I think the run ends in the divisional round, but there will be a lot of good feeling this offseason if I am right. And I might not be right, but I am always realistic.

 

That does it for the 2021 Franchise Sports Media Raiders Season Preview. Let’s fire up the BBQ, crack open a cold one, and get ready for the NFL season to officially kickoff. The Raiders take on the Baltimore Ravens at Allegiant Stadium on  Monday Night Football. The game can be seen on ESPN or ABC with the kickoff scheduled for 5:15 p.m.

Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders       Raiders          Raiders          Raiders          Raiders    

 

CJ Baldwin – Franchise Sports Media

Join The Franchise on Social Media

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

YouTube