Just when NFL fans thought the AFC east division might be there for the taking, the New England Patriots sign former league MVP Cam Newton to replace long-time division tormentor Tom Brady.
There seems to be a prevailing feeling approaching this new NFL season, that the Oakland Raiders are a major contender for taking the Super Bowl.
This is complete lunacy. Their resurgence back to relevance is encouraging and heartwarming and Derek Carr is one of the most likeable figures in the game. But this franchise is doomed.
AFC West is without a doubt the most difficult division within the game. Kansas City (12-4), Denver Broncos (9-7) and the new Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) are such formidable opponents.
Denver are now two seasons removed from Super Bowl 50, with a championship defence still perfectly intact. Trevor Siemian has essentially a rookie year now under his belt (is massively underrated too) and John Elway has made an effort to improve a patchwork offensive line.
Current division champions Kansas City have been largely able to retain a dominant roster, despite cutting Jeremy Maclin for reasons unknown to me. They will not fall below 10-6.
Also, the Chargers have probably improved the most out of any of these teams. Desperately unlucky to go 5-11 last year they will challenge for the AFC West.
With Oakland having to play these teams six times, I can’t see them going above 3-3 when taking into account playing away at notoriously rowdy stadiums (Mile High and Arrowhead in particular).
If winning the division is the easiest way for a team to make the playoffs, then Oakland can make absolutely no mistakes when facing their western rivals.
Oakland’s other opponents largely come from the AFC East and NFC East. While the former is a walk in the park (aside from the Patriots), one has to remember that all the other AFC West teams will easily destroy the likes of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins. So even if they go 3-4 here, I think so will Denver and Kansas at least too.
Then the NFC East is also an extremely challenging division, with the revitalised Cowboys, Eagles and Giants featuring as savage opponents and Washington with a killer offence. No better than 2-4 here.
This makes capturing a Wild Card harder and harder for the Raiders, whereas teams in the AFC South like the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans get to play the NFC West, absolute trash like the LA Rams and 49ers.
Maybe even taking 4-4 record or probably 3-4. The Raiders have been handed one of the most difficult schedules the NFL had to offer right when they were ready to make the next step, or start regularly recording winning seasons.
For Jack Del Rio’s men to qualify for the playoffs they have to almost certainly win their division. All of the AFC West will have ugly records and 9-7 may even clinch it. A record like that is normally a Wild Card ballpark figure.
This brings me to their roster, which I am not entirely convinced of either.
Derek Carr is great, but he is coming off a broken leg. He will need time to repair his poise and we don’t know how badly if this is at all going to physically affect him. Put a brand spanking new $125-million contract on the table and the weight of expectation may result in erratic play or even re-injury.
If he misses a game at all this season, then again the Raiders are doomed. Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper look great on paper and are so easy for pundits to praise.
But when you watch the tape, the former consistently drops easy passes and the latter never seems to show up in big games.
Cooper’s play particularly suffered in the second half of the season. I think I noticed this after they played the Texans in Mexico, a game he dominated and scored two touchdowns in. Yes, after this performance I never saw him really put the team on his back when they needed a big play.
He was particularly bad in the Playoffs, when the vengeful Texans beat the living hell out of them. Oakland have also lost some pieces in the secondary, like DJ Hayden, who wasn’t all together great but decent and cornerbacks are a position that really needs consistency year to year in order to establish nice dynasties. One snap of blown or miscommunicated coverage between the safeties and corners can completely change a game.
So who cares if they signed Marshawn Lynch. The Oakland Raiders are a pretty good football team I won’t argue with you there, but this is just not their year.
A nice comparison would be last year’s Miami Dolphins, a franchise that took home a 10-6 record despite being stinking waste. They had the luxury of playing the NFC West and it lead to a Wild Card. This year it will be the Titans and the Colts. Denver or Kansas will win the AFC West on the backs of their defence.
It’s just not Oakland’s year. Try again next time. 7-9 in my opinion.
And by the way, viva Las Vegas!
In the next few years Oakland will lost the majority of it’s diehard fan-base, be unable to resign all key starters (Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Jared Cook, Donald Penn, Kelechi Osmele…maybe a few but not all) and still have to deal with the AFC West and New England Patriots.
I can see this dream fizzling out in dramatic circumstances. Some time in the future we may all ask ourselves just what happened to this team.
@Titans = LOSS
Jets = WIN
@Redskins = LOSS
@Broncos = LOSS
Ravens = WIN
Chargers = WIN
Chiefs = LOSS
@Bills = WIN
@Dolphins = WIN
Patriots = LOSS
Broncos = WIN
Giants = LOSS
@Chiefs = LOSS
Cowboys = LOSS
Eagles = WIN
@Chargers = LOSS