2018 NFL Over-Under Win Totals: Jon Gruden's Raiders are the ultimate wild card
Oakland is a total toss up with no one knowing what will happen under Gruden
Only two words are needed to describe the Raiders' offseason: $100 million. We would also have accepted "Jon Gruden," the judges say. Gruden's return to football is the story when it comes to the Raiders, even as Oakland prepares to a move from their home to Las Vegas.
The firing of Jack Del Rio was a surprise, with the coach just one year removed from a 12-win season, but the chance to get Gruden was too much for Mark Davis, who longed for the halcyon days of the Raiders dominating and making Super Bowl runs.
Gruden has been out of coaching for quite some time, however -- he last coached in 2008 with the Buccaneers -- and there are questions about how he will adapt to football in 2018.
The one-time Super Bowl winner, who spent the last near-decade working in the broadcast booth for ESPN on "Monday Night Football," has spent the offseason talking about throwing the game back to 1998 and making questionable comments about analytics (involving having a DJ at practice).
He's also added a lot of players who are, ahem, a bit long in the tooth. Jordy Nelson had connections to Oakland and still should have gas left in the tank, but he's a 33-year-old wide receiver. Doug Martin's been an up-and-down runner his entire career, hence Tampa releasing him. Gruden is banking on Martin and Marshawn Lynch. The duo is a combined 61 years old.
The Raiders are also turning to Tom Cable, a former Raiders head coach, to try and fix the offensive line, even though the line was supposedly the team's strength. As such, Oakland invested in Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker in the draft. Miller is loaded with upside and looks like he could start at right tackle.
Questions remain about whether or not the defense, which was a sieve last season, is fixed, and Khalil Mack holding out this offseason doesn't exactly help matters.
Nothing would surprise with Oakland: they could go 4-12 or 12-4 next year and I wouldn't flinch. Vegas is just as confused, setting.
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Early Schedule Analysis
The early portion of the schedule is at least a little friendly, although the Raiders drawing the potentially high-powered Rams with the first game of the season at home isn't a layup at all. They then travel east to play the Dolphins in Week 2, before making a pit stop in Denver against the Broncos in Week 3. The Browns at home in Week 4 could sort out as a must-win if things go wrong early, especially with the Chargers waiting on the road in Week 5 before a home game against the Seahawks. The Raiders get their bye in Week 7. The Colts at home in Week 8 opens up the post-bye schedule, followed by the 49ers on the road, the Chargers at home, and then the Cardinals and Ravens on the road. Depending on Andrew Luck's status, that could be a difficult stretch. The Raiders then close out the season with the Chiefs (home, Week 13), Steelers (home), Bengals (road), Broncos (home) and Chiefs (road). There's just not an easy stretch and four of those games are in primetime, including two of the final four games.
Why They'll Go Over
Gruden hasn't missed a beat and only got better as a coach while working as a broadcaster (this is something that happens, frequently, believe it or not), learning the trends and intricacies of the game. Hiring Gerry Austin, the former ref and MNF analyst, helps to give Gruden a necessary grasp of the rules when he wants to challenge and gives them some kind of unexpected Moneyball twist. Derek Carr has a bounce-back season under the offensive guru, dishing and dealing to Amari Cooper and Nelson. Martavis Bryant stays out of trouble and becomes a field-stretching threat. Lynch and Martin turn back time and pound the ball behind the big bodies on the Raiders' offensive line. Mack puts on another DPOY type of season, pressuring pockets and opening up opportunities for other players to make plays on defense. The Raiders are a hard-hitting, visor-wearing, Chucky-looking monster that can't be stopped and win the AFC West, cruising past their total.
Why They'll Go Under
That feels like a fever dream and a total best-case scenario and it's hard to fathom. A bunch of old guys all have to operate at maximum efficiency in order for the Raiders to be really good and they have everyone on the roster making a total transition to a new system despite not having the full schedule of offseason training that Gruden expected from his previous run in the NFL. Again, they're re-working the strength of the team, by having Cable manage the offensive line, and if you ask any Seahawks fan how that's going to go, they won't give you an enthusiastic answer. The defense has major weak spots; as good as Mack is, they're going to need immediate impact play from draft picks like Maurice Hurst (who has dealt with a heart issue) and Arden Key (who has dealt with off-field issues) to boost the front seven (I sneaky like their linebackers). The secondary is a major question mark right now, as cornerback has been a tough position for the Raiders to manage over the years. If they stumble out of the gate, things could get tough and if they don't protect Carr/get great performance from Cooper/Nelson/Bryant, the offense might not be as dynamic as we hoped.
Betting against Gruden feels like a foolish endeavor, especially in a division with all kinds of turnover and change occurring. Especially in his first year, it feels like he could inspire a bunch of guys to outperform expectations. But I'm going to do it anyway. I see the Raiders and Broncos battling it out for the bottom of this division.
VERDICT: UNDER (8)
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