We have returned with another FY 2016 NFL team preview! Don’t care about the Black Hole? Jump to Arizona; Atlanta; Baltimore; Buffalo; Carolina; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Green Bay; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Minnesota; New England; New Orleans; New York Giants; New York Jets.
Where They’re Coming From
Thirteen seasons of football darker than a black hole.
No playoffs since 2002. Heck, no winning seasons since 2002! Oh, and now the team is probably moving. If anyone could use a shoulder to cry on, it’s Raiders fans. Too bad their shoulders are covered in spikes.
Where They’re Going
Toward the bright lights.
Oakland has finally found its first quality quarterback since Rich Gannon. Given that Derek Carr came to the Raiders a whole ten years younger than Gannon, this team can actually build a long-lasting contender around him. Thus, this offseason, Reggie McKenzie forewent the Raiders usual strategy of overpaying past-their-prime veterans and actually brought in some free agents under 30. Oakland’s starting to act like a normal football team, just in time for their move to the abnormal home of Las Vegas.
Key Offseason Moves
Additions: G Kelechi Osemele, LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson
Losses: S Charles Woodson (retired), DE Justin Tuck (retired)
What to Watch For
An offense that’s ready to break out.
The Raiders jumped from 31st to 17th in scoring last season, and this offense looks poised for another big leap up the board in 2016. Oakland improved at guard by adding devastating run blocker Kelechi Osemele, bolstering an offensive line that already ranked sixth in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Whether it’s Latavius Murray or impressive rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, some running back will find much bigger holes this season and improve the league’s fifth-worst rushing attack.
Under Bill Musgrave, the passing attack was productive last season, and another year in the same system for Carr should help him improve what has been a pedestrian completion percentage for his career (59.6-percent). With the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the outside, there’s potential for the Raiders aerial assault to truly take off this year, if Carr can improve his accuracy.
Who to Watch For
Khalil Mack, DE/LB
Usually a section reserved for X-factor types, I can’t resist gushing over Mack here. Despite all the talent Oakland brought in, this is still his defense. A First-Team All-Pro at two positions, Mack is in a pass rushing class formerly reserved for just J.J. Watt. His ability to generate sacks is matched only by his ability to fight through blockers and snuff out the run. Even when he blows by ball carriers, he has the speed and agility to chase them down.
As one of the few starters remaining from last year’s D, Mack’s leadership will be crucial as this defense tries to gel on the fly. Week 1 will be a whole lot easier for the revamped secondary if, every time Drew Brees looks up, no. 52 is in his face.
What Could Go Wrong
The Raiders buy into their own hype.
Historically, winning free agency doesn’t count for bunk come kickoff. Just ask the Dolphins. Even though Oakland added a ton of talent this offseason, it doesn’t mean they’re suddenly playoff bound. Buying into that thinking is dangerous, too; when teams fall short, management tends to make rash decisions.
The Raiders are a young group that could be building something special, and falling short of the playoffs this year shouldn’t derail that.
Where They’ll End Up
Third in a very strong division.
I think Oakland could secure their first winning season since 2002 this year, probably at 9-7. But given the quality of Kansas City and Denver, as the saying goes, “everyone else is just playing for third.” Seeing as “everyone else” includes the lowly Chargers, I’d say Oakland’s chances at the bronze are pretty good.