It’s back! NFL Football (real, non-preseason edition) is finally here — and the best part is, the Las Vegas Raiders kick off the season on Monday Night Football in front of what should be an animated crowd in Sin City. It’ll be the first time folks are in Allegiant Stadium for a regular-season game, and given the fact that it has been eight months since the Raiders have played a meaningful game, it’s hard not to get excited.
Looking ahead to this season, the biggest storyline will be whether or not the Raiders’ re-tooled defense can improve even to a league-average level. This off-season they added six new starters to the defense, including the unit’s two best players (arguably) in KJ Wright and Yannick Ngakoue. Those two, alongside Maxx Crosby and rookie Tre’von Moehrig, should anchor a group that has only one place to go: Up.
On offense, the Raiders have rebuilt their offensive line with first-round pick Alex Leatherwood and new center Andre James. They are relying on a pair of second-year wide receivers in Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards — but the upside remains in place as long as Jon Gruden is calling plays, Derek Carr is throwing passes, Darren Waller is embarrassing linebackers, and Josh Jacobs is running through arm tackles.
In 2020, the Raiders went 8-8 — buoyed by a 6-3 start that preceded a 2-5 finish. Heading into this season, the sportsbooks have the Raiders’ win total set at over/under at 7.5 — tied for the seventh-worst mark in the league (don’t forget that each team will be playing 17 games this season for the first time). With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of this season’s schedule — along with my predictions for each game.
Week 1 vs. Baltimore Ravens (MNF): WIN
If there’s a team you want extra time to prepare for, it’s the Ravens and the Lamar Jackson Experience — so extra prep time combined with a banged-up Ravens unit and a packed house in Vegas, I’ve got the Raiders in an upset.
Week 2 @ Pittsburgh Steelers: LOSS
Short week, cross-country travel, and a Ben Roethlisberger that is still feeling fresh in Week 2, I think the Raiders get humbled a bit after a big Week 1 stunner with a loss.
Week 3 vs Miami Dolphins: LOSS
There are a lot of these games that I think are going to be toss-ups, and I like Miami more than most. Of course, this one will hurt at home, but I think Tua is much better this year, and Brian Flores is the most underrated coach in the league.
Week 4 @ Los Angeles Chargers (MNF): LOSS
I wanted to pick a win here, but I’ve got three straight losses following a win over Baltimore. This will feel like a home game — especially on Monday Night — but the Chargers are legit.
Week 5 vs. Chicago Bears: WIN
I would imagine that Justin Fields is probably the starting quarterback by this point, and I think the Raiders defense gives him trouble while the offense starts to find its footing in a comfortable home win.
Week 6 @ Denver Broncos: LOSS
I think the Raiders split with Denver, even though I’m much lower on the Broncos than most (I think they finish fourth in the division). So I’ll give Denver this one at home, moving the Raiders to 2-4.
Week 7 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: WIN
Heading into the bye week, the Raiders get a big win against an Eagles team I don’t think is very good. The defense is ready for Jalen Hurts, having seen Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields already — so they’re used to the quarterback run game by now.
Week 8: BYE WEEK
Week 9 @ New York Giants: WIN
Coming out of the bye, the Raiders travel back east and get a win to move to .500 on the season. Daniel Jones isn’t any good, but they don’t have a plan B at quarterback, so the Raiders win this one.
Week 10 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (SNF): LOSS
Just when you think the arrow is pointing up, you get Patrick Mahomes and Co. I know the Raiders beat them once — and nearly a second time — last season, but I can’t in good faith pick the Raiders to beat them. Could they? Sure. Is it likely? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Week 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: WIN
Nothing like the Bengals to wash the taste of a division loss out of your mouth. I like Joe Burrow but don’t like the Bengals. Raiders comfortably.
Week 12 @ Dallas Cowboys (TNF): WIN
Thanksgiving game! Probably the one I’m most excited about this season, and I think the Raiders steal this one. It’ll be a shootout between two of the better offenses in the league, but I think Gruden outcoaches Mike McCarthy (assuming he still has his job), and the Raiders move to 6-5 — the first time over .500 since Week 1.
Week 13 vs. Washington Football Team: WIN
This is a tough game, but at home, I like the Raiders. I know the Washington defense is among the best in football, but I think the Raiders will score on anybody — and you know they want revenge for what Ryan Fitzpatrick did to them with Miami last season.
Week 14 @ Kansas City Chiefs: LOSS
See above. Mahomes is too good.
Week 15 @ Cleveland Browns: LOSS
The 7-5 Raiders run into a buzz saw at Kansas City / Cleveland at the end of the year, which is brutal. The Browns are legit, and the road game doesn’t help.
Week 16 vs. Denver Broncos: WIN
This is the biggest game of the season given how much the Raiders struggled to close the season out last year — and given the pair of games, it comes on the heels of. However, I think the Raiders bounce back at home and stay alive in the playoff hunt.
Week 17 @ Indianapolis Colts: WIN
The Colts’ defense is legit, but their quarterback situation might be among the worst in the league barring a miraculous Wentz revival. I’m leaning towards the former, and I think the Raiders make Week 18 interesting.
Week 18 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: WIN
9-7 with a chance to make the playoffs on the line — possibly in a winner-gets-in scenario against the Chargers in Vegas. The veterans on offense and defense get the team fired up for this one, and Carr leads the team to the playoffs since 2016.
Final Record: 10-7
10-7 feels like a lot when I step back and look at things (9-8 feels more realistic), but I think the Raiders have the talent to go 10-7 if things break their way injury-wise. They’re better prepared at backup quarterback than most teams, they seem to be among the most vaccinated teams in the league, and I really think the Vegas homefield advantage thing will be for real. Las Vegas Raiders, 2021 playoffs, here we come…