Did the 2020 Las Vegas Raiders meet expectations? Exceed them? Come up short? It’s a fascinating line of questioning because at the end of the day the answer gets at the perspective you choose to take.
Let’s start with optimism… Last year the Raiders won seven games, this year they won eight. Their over/under win total in Vegas was 7.5, which they exceeded. They were 4-2 in the division, including a win over the Kansas City Chiefs (and nearly a second). They scored eight more points per game, moving from 24th in the league to 10th. Derek Carr posted the highest QB Rating and QBR of his career, while throwing for more yards than he ever has. Josh Jacobs ran for over 1,000 yards for the second year in a row while adding 12 touchdowns. And then there’s Darren Waller, whose nine catches Sunday afternoon moved him into sole possession of the franchise’s single-season reception record (107), and he also notched his second-straight 1,100+ yard campaign. Last but not least, they were in the thick of the playoff hunt deep into the season.
But was that all enough?
On the flip side, they were once 6-3 with a manageable schedule in front of them and their destiny under their control. And yet, they lost five of their next six — some in excruciating and puzzling fashion — to derail their once-promising season. If you take the perspective of a fan in Week 11, it’s hard to be anything but massively disappointed by how things played out.
And, speaking of pessimism, you’ll notice that nothing in the paragraph-of-positivity was mentioned about the defense. That’s because when it came to preventing their opponent from scoring points, only two teams in the league were worse — despite the franchise investing nine first or second-round picks on that side of the ball in the last five drafts. Oh, and then there are the contracts they’ve given to Lamarcus Joyner (4 years, $42 million), Carl Nassib (3 years, $25 million), Maliek Collins (1 year, $6 million), Cory Littleton (3 years, $35 million), Jeff Heath (2 years, $6 million) and Nick Kwiatkoski (3 years, $21 million) over the past two off-seasons. The investment is there — the production is not.
Regardless of all that, however, what we do know is this: the Raiders finished the 2020 season at 8-8 after a wild win in Denver in Week 17. And while normally I’m spending Week 17s hoping the team loses so as not to screw up an elite draft pick, it was refreshing to have a year where that wasn’t the case. Ending the season with a win felt necessary — even if it moved them down one spot in the draft order (from No. 16 to No. 17).
As for Sunday’s game over the Broncos…
Offensive MVP: Darren Waller
Nine catches, 117 yards, a touchdown, the go-ahead two-point conversion — all while setting the franchise record for receptions in a season. Waller ended the season averaging 130.8 yards per game over the final five weeks, notching four touchdowns and an absurd 43 catches over that stretch. He is the Raiders’ best player on offense and a genuine superstar.
Defensive MVP: Cory Littleton and Maxx Crosby
Littleton has been a disappointment this season — in may ways a perfect metaphor for the Raider defense as a whole throughout 2020 — but I thought this was his best game of the season. He made a number of big plays and good tackles, while seeming to be in good position most of the day. It wasn’t dominant by any stretch, but it was solid — which is better than you could say most weeks this year.
Crosby, on the other hand, gets the nod for blocking not one but two field goals on Sunday (while also adding a sack and two tackles for a loss). He also had a fantastic postgame quote when asked about the blocks: “some of their linemen are lazy.” Amazing.
Special Teams MVP: Daniel Carlson
Quietly, Carlson set the franchise scoring record on Sunday, adding six more points to his total that finished the season at 143 total points. Carlson was great all year, and between him and punter AJ Cole, it appears the Raiders are set on their special teams unit for years to come.
- I mentioned last week that the Raiders hadn’t scored on their opening drive in five weeks. Well, make it six. Another three-and-out to start on Sunday.
- On the first scoring drive of the game for the Raiders, we saw what Henry Ruggs III can do in opening up space for others. The eventual field goal was set up by a 58-yard completion to Nelson Agholor, but when you watch the tape you can see Ruggs’ speed pull the safety with him as he crossed the field, leaving Agholor wide open.
- One weird thing for the Raider offense as the season wound down was their inability to establish the run. Obviously missing their first-choice guard and tackle (as well as their second-choice guard) doesn’t help, but they only ran for nine yards in the first quarter. Thankfully, they added 97 more over the final three quarters — putting Jacobs over 1,000 yards for the season.
- How often does a team win a game in which they lose the turnover battle 4-0? Or what about when a team commits 14 penalties for 111 yards (10 more penalties and 83 more yards than their opponent)? Not sure, but your odds can’t be great.
- It was nice to see rookie Bryan Edwards play his best game of the season in this one, as he’s a guy that the Raiders will need to step up big time next year — especially if Agholor isn’t back. Edwards caught both of his targets for 51 yards and a touchdown.
- At one point in the second half, the Raiders had three turnovers in a five-snap stretch. How is that even possible?
- One thing I’ll say about Carr: both interceptions were mistakes by him, and he took a couple bad sacks (although to be fair, his mobility is surely compromised by his groin injury). Despite all that, he didn’t let things spiral and instead he made a number of great passes down the stretch that were right where they needed to be — including the go-ahead two-point conversion.
- One funny story to end the year… At the beginning of the season, a friend and I decided we liked the Raiders to go over their win total this season. Because I’m an idiot, I accidentally went in and placed the bet for the under and didn’t realize it until months later. Fast-forward to Sunday, and I had placed another bet: Raiders -2.5. I had parlayed it with a couple of easy money lines, believing the Raiders cared a lot about winning on Sunday. Part way through the first half I texted my friend saying: “Just so you know, the Raiders are going to win by one point, that way we lose both the season wins under and our parlay.” Sure enough, as the Raiders score their final touchdown they decided to go for two. Kick the XP and one of my bets is all but guaranteed to win in overtime. Go for two and I lose no matter what. And, well, I lost. But hey: at least the Raiders won.