Nothing is more bittersweet than the NFL’s schedule release day.
As exciting as it is to play out the matchups in your head and formulate plans around Monday Night Football, there’s also the realization that actual football remains nearly four months away. For Raiders fans, there’s the added layer of disappointment that usually comes with a less-than-favorable schedule — and 2021 is no different.
According to Las Vegas win total projections, the Raiders face the second-hardest schedule in the league, with their opponents projected to win an average of nine games this season.
But enough with the negativity, let’s dive into some initial thoughts, matchups I’m excited for, and a way-too-early, sure-to-be-wrong record prediction…
There are only two places to start when it comes to the 2021 schedule for the Raiders: Monday Night Football in Week 1 against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, plus Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys. The Ravens matchup is expected to be the first time fans are allowed inside Allegiant Stadium, and ticket prices for that game have already gone through the roof. Monday Night Football in Vegas? Week 1? Lamar Jackson? Yeah….it adds up.
But even more exciting than that is the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one day a year when everybody is dialed into their TV, enjoying the NFL’s triple-header — and while some teams get to play every year (Detroit and Dallas), the opportunity for other teams to join the fun are few and far between. But not this year!
In case you couldn’t tell, the first thing I look for is the list of nationally televised games — and as of right now, the Raiders have four: Monday Night games against the Ravens and Broncos, a Sunday Night game against the Chiefs and then the Thanksgiving Day Game (their Thursday appearance for the year) against the Cowboys. Not bad for a team that few are projecting to make the playoffs this season.
Top Five Matchups
1. Week 1 v Baltimore (Monday Night Football)
2. Week 12 at Dallas (Thursday Night Football)
3. Week 10 v Kansas City (Sunday Night Football)
4. Week 18 v Los Angeles Chargers
5. Week 5 v Chicago
We’ve talked about a couple of these already, but the last three are intriguing to me. Week 10 is the first time the Raiders get their shot at Patrick Mahomes and Co. — and to do it on national television at home should give the Raiders all the energy they need to continue their impressive stretch of football against Kansas City.
Week 18 — how weird is it to type that? — would be fun to imagine with the season on the line, playing Justin Herbert and the dreaded Chargers. Again, it’s at home and so that one could be wild.
My No. 5 choice had a lot of different directions I could have gone — Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami all will be significant games — but the possibility of not only Khalil Mack coming to Vegas but also Justin Fields has that game circled for me. I like that the Raiders get the Bears early in the year, in hopes that Fields (assuming he starts over Andy Dalton) hasn’t found a rhythm yet.
Weeks 1-4 (v BAL, at PIT, v MIA, at LAC): 3-1
The Raiders are traditionally fast starters, and I like that they get Baltimore and Pittsburgh early in the season. Miami will be tough, but at least it isn’t a 10 a.m. west coast game — and the Chargers game will feel like a home game in LA.
Weeks 5-9 (v CHI, at DEN, v PHI, BYE, at NYG): 3-1
Don’t worry, this won’t look like a homer set of predictions throughout, but which of these four teams scares you? Justin Fields, Drew Lock, Jalen Hurts and Daniel Jones? No fear here.
Weeks 10-13 (v KC, v CIN, at DAL, v WAS): 1-3
Is this the beginning of a late-season slide? Hopefully not — but Kansas City will always be tough, while Dallas and Washington are no joke. Hopefully, the Bengals roll over a bit and give the Raiders a bit of a breather.
Weeks 14-18 (at KC, at CLE, v DEN, at IND, v LAC): 2-3
Talk about a gauntlet coming home. Kansas City and Cleveland might be two of the best three teams in the AFC, while Indy and the Chargers should be firmly in the playoff mix as well. If the record plays out the way I expected heading into this stretch, it’ll be another big test for Jon Gruden and Derek Carr. Will they pass it?