The Las Vegas Raiders will really kick off in 2021 since they played their games in their new city behind closed doors. But hey, if things are at least somewhat back to normal in September, it may be well worth the wait.
So is 2021 the year for the Raiders to take the next step and become the best futures bets in the AFC West? Today’s post debates the topic.
Can the Las Vegas Raiders Surpass a Division Rival?
We all know that this division rival is the Kansas City Chiefs. And yes, the Los Angeles Chargers are no joke either, with perhaps the best performing young quarterback in football since the Chiefs kicked off the Patrick Mahomes Era.
So perhaps the Las Vegas Raiders must surpass two division rivals (sorry, Bronco fans).
But the Raiders are in a better position than you think. Thanks to the same NFL franchise that beat them in a Super Bowl 2 decades ago in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers laid out the blueprint on how to beat the Chiefs. In fact, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense looked so bad, I thought for a second they’d thrown back to the Tyler Thigpen Era a decade ago.
It means a couple of things for the Raiders.
- For one, they can definitely threaten to sweep the Chiefs with the blueprint up and running.
- For another, they don’t need to go 15-1 just to win the AFC West, as other opponents will copy the blueprint.
Remember, the Raiders beat the Chiefs in a thriller back in 2020. So they’re capable. In Round 2, they lost by a mere 4 points. Based on aggregate, if that’s even a thing, they outscored their top rival. This states they can definitely hang with the Chiefs. Even with inferior talent.
But since the Bucs exposed Mahomes and Company, the rest of the NFL will make life difficult for the Chiefs. However, Andy Reid and Mahomes have high football IQs. So don’t expect the Chiefs to suffer a hangover.
They’ll still win at least 10-plus games, meaning the Raiders must still win at least 12 or more games to take the West. And with the Chiefs still the Chiefs until the NFL says otherwise and the surging Chargers, it means the Raiders aren’t the safest futures bet out there.
The Las Vegas Raiders Have a Core
A core of players who have remained loyal to the Silver and Black.
Even if no one in their right mind would put their faith in Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, let’s give Mark Davis credit for the stability to what has been an unstable franchise.
And so far, the Gruden/Mayock combo has done surprisingly well.
Because of that stability, the Raiders have built through the NFL Draft and free agency, holding onto key players long-term.
They also have a solid running back in Josh Jacobs, the NFL’s best tight end in Darren Waller, plus solid building blocks on defense starting with Maxx Crosby.
And because of stability on the sidelines, in the front office, and even on the field, the Raiders have gone from 4-12 in 2018 to 7-9 in 2019, and finally to 8-8 in 2020. No, it hasn’t been pretty, and yes, they’re still playing in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.
This could change, but the core that the team has built since the second Jon Gruden Era began has provided a few solid returns. They still have a lot of work to do, given yet another missed playoff berth. But they’re in much better shape than they’ve been in the last 20 seasons.
The Las Vegas Raiders Have Their Work Cut Out
At least in terms of the NFL schedule.
Here’s a rundown: Kansas City Chiefs (twice), Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, and the Washington Football Team. Every team listed above either won at least 10 games or made the playoffs.
That’s half of their games.
And as mentioned, this doesn’t include the Los Angeles Chargers (twice) or the Dallas Cowboys. The latter of whom should have Dak Prescott back in the saddle in time for the season. So the Raiders are looking at 11 tough games, in which we can safely say they’ll win about half of them.
So we’ll give them a winning record against their toughest opponents. But that still leaves little room for error among their final 5, which includes the Denver Broncos (twice), Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles.
Everyone has a bad game, so you can expect the Raiders to lose to at least one of these opponents. Best-case scenario, they go 4-1 against this batch, giving them a record of 10-6.
And the fact that they have a core of players in place who know the system. But as you saw in the AFC in 2020, 10-6 still wasn’t good enough for a team like the Miami Dolphins to make the playoffs.
Perhaps, given this model, the best odds for the Raiders would come with the Over/Under.
Realistically, they’re a fringe playoff team and it would be tough to win the division at 10-6. Or even finish in second place.
As always, do your own research before engaging in futures bets. But the scenario outlined above provides a decent example that will at least get you started.
The Sketchy, Sketchy Las Vegas Raiders Defense
The Las Vegas Raiders allowed 478 points in 2020, or 29.9 points per game. If you’re thinking of placing a futures bet on the Raiders, that number must change for the team to give you a return on your wager for 2021.
Let’s look at the Raiders’ defensive statistics, and where they need to improve to bring this number down. Preferably to below 400.
- The Raiders finished 25th in total defense
- 26th in total yards per play
- 30th in turnovers with just 15
- 26th in passing defense
- 24th in rushing defense
- 23rd in rushing yards allowed per attempt
- They also ranked 29th in sacks with just 21
- As well as 32nd in missed tackles with 143.
Often, when a team struggles in, say, rushing defense, their passing defense, at worst, ranks in the middle of the league. The Raiders were 23rd or worse in every major defensive category. Their 478 points allowed also ranked 30th in the NFL.
Bad news when you’re facing Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert twice a year. And even worse news when you got guys like Dak Prescott, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and now Carson Wentz coming to town.
But they need to get it together on defense fast via both free agency and the NFL Draft.
However, they’re still among the NFL’s worst defenses and perhaps the worst overall, given their bottom-tier rankings in every major category.
On offense, they can put up yards and points against anyone. Including the NFL’s best. But with their tough schedule coming up in 2021, they need to fix the defense and do so fast. The good news is that it only needs to get to a halfway-decent level, considering their offensive prowess.
They need a lot of help.