Raiders 2021 season preview: Game-by-game analysis, record prediction

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We are just a day away from the start of the 2021 NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys take on the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football.

The rest of the NFL will have to wait until at least Sunday to take the field. While the Raiders and Ravens will have the longest wait, as they will close out opening weekend as the Monday Night Football game.

Not once did the Raiders field a team of starters for the preseason, so Monday will be the first time we get a full idea of what we might be able to expect from this group.

What I expect to see is an improved defense under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. What I don’t expect to see is an improved offense. With the overhaul of the offensive line and the departure of wide receiver Nelson Agholor the Raiders’ offense looks like it could take a step back from last season.

Here’s how I expect the season to play out.

Week 1 vs Baltimore Ravens

Nov 25, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Allegiant will be buzzing for the Raiders' first-ever Las Vegas home game with fans in attendance. The fans will be hyped and the players will be hyped so I expect the Raiders to give the Ravens all they can handle. But in the end, the Ravens prove to be just too good. This Ravens squad is strong. Add that Jon Harbaugh has not lost a season opener since 2015, and you know they're going to be ready. Oh, and they haven't just won their season openers. They have destroyed their opponents. No team has scored more than 10 points on them and they have outscored their opponents by an average of over 30 points per game! That margin has only gotten more vast the past three seasons with Lamar Jackson at QB. The Ravens have outscored their opponents 144-19. That's an average margin of victory of nearly 42 points.

Result: Loss (0-1)

Week 2: at Pittsburgh Steelers

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates his touchdown catch with offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (78) during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off the excitement of their first Las Vegas home game in front of fans, the Raiders head off to the steel city for a meeting with the Steelers. And this time they will be met with a rowdy crowd excited for their team's home opener. They will also meet up with a defense that boasts the likes of All-Pro EDGE TJ Watt, DT Cam Hayward, and S Minkah Fitzpatrick. This team began last season on an 11-game win streak. They may have faded down the stretch last season (so too did the Raiders) but still pulled out a 12-4 record. In those early-season games, Ben Roethlisberger was on fire, throwing 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions and seven times finishing with a passer rating over 100. I'll believe he and the Steelers are finished when I see more proof.

Result: Loss (0-2)

Week 3: vs Miami Dolphins

Sep 23, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) makes an interception in front of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's back to Allegiant for the Raiders with their second shot at giving the rabid fans in attendance something to cheer about. And this time they get it. Despite Tua Tagovailoa not playing all that great last season, this Dolphins team was tough and still managed to pull out 10 wins. I expect Tua to be improved this season and the Dolphins to still be a tough out. But I just don't see the Raiders being denied this shot at their first Vegas home win with fans. I see those fans being the difference-maker.

Result: Win (1-2)

Week 4: at Los Angeles Chargers

Aug 19, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley reacts during a joint practice against the Los Angeles Rams. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Gus Bradley revenge game. Last season the Raiders and Chargers split the season series, with both games coming down to the wire. Bradley was on the other sideline for that one, as was Casey Hayward and Denzel Perryman. Now, you can look at this two ways. You can say the Chargers players know Bradley's system, so they would know best how to exploit it. And vice versa with regard to Bradley knowing the tendencies of Justin Herbert and that Chargers offense. There are two variables here that I think favor the Raiders. One is the fact that Chargers games in LA are always dominated by Silver & Black in the stands. It's basically a home game for the Raiders and that is a disheartening thing if you're a Chargers player. And two, the Chargers have an all-new staff, so while the Raiders' defensive staff knows them, their defensive staff doesn't know the Raiders.

Result: Win (2-2)

Week 5: vs Chicago Bears

Oct 6, 2019; London, United Kingdom; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) chases Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

After a week in their home away from home in LA, the Raiders return to Las Vegas to welcome Khalil Mack and the Bears. Mack may be the Bears' best player, but it could be head coach Matt Nagy that decides their fate. He decided he would go with Andy Dalton over top pick Justin Fields at QB to begin the season. Or at least that's what he's saying. Fields would seem to be the better choice for the Bears. Dalton has started a lot of games in the NFL, but it's been six years since he won more games than he lost. He is widely considered a game manager at best. Then again, this is week five, so who knows if Dalton will still be the starter by this point. If he's not, it suggests the Bears are struggling and it's time to give Fields a shot. While I think Fields would present a tougher match-up, I see the Raiders edging them out regardless and picking up their third straight win.

Result: Win (3-2)

Week 6: at Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 1: Strong safety Justin Simmons #31 of the Denver Broncos intercepts a deep pass intended for wide receiver Amari Cooper #89 of the Oakland Raiders as free safety Bradley Roby #29 covers the play late in the fourth quarter of a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

A trip to the Mile High city breaks up the Raiders friendly environments of the previous few weeks. The hatred for all things Raiders is strong in Bronco country. So too is that defense. Vic Fangio commands quite possibly the league's best defense. They can send pressure from all over the place and then ball hawk in the secondary. Add the noise Derek Carr will be dealing with pre-snap and it could be a long day for the Raiders' offense.

Result: Loss (3-3)

Week 7: vs Philadelphia Eagles

Dec 27, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs the ball against Dallas Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith (58) in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Back home again to face the Eagles. This is the Raiders' easiest match-up of the first half of this season. The Eagles aren't a very good team and new starting QB Jalen Hurts has a lot to prove still. I don't see him proving it in this one.

Result: Win (4-3)

Week 9: at New York Giants

Aug 29, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) points behind offensive guard Kenny Wiggins (79) in front of New England Patriots defensive tackle Carl Davis (98) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of a bye, a well-rested Raiders squad heads to New York to face the Giants. It's a 10 am Pacific time start, which typically works against the teams out west. And it's November so there's always the chance of some chilly weather. After a stellar rookie year, QB Daniel Jones took a step back in his second season. Despite starting more games, he had fewer passing yards, 13 fewer touchdowns (11), and nearly as many interceptions (10). He was also sacked 45 times. The jury is still out on if he's the answer and he will be facing a Raiders team with two weeks to prepare.

Result: Win (5-3)

Week 10: vs Kansas City Chiefs

Nov 22, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It's the Chiefs. Participants in the past two Super Bowls and year removed from hoisting the Lombardi. Their fans travel well -- especially if a trip to Vegas is part of the deal -- so we may see a good amount of red in Allegiant for this one. That won't matter too much. The Chiefs can do what they do regardless. Patrick Mahomes is still arguably the best QB in the league and they aren't going to lose many games. I don't see this being one of them.

Result: Loss (5-4)

Week 11: vs Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) leads a huddle before the first drive in the first quarter of the NFL Preseason Week 3 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.
Miami Dolphins At Cincinnati Bengals Preseason

Most people are looking at the Bengals as a team they will beat up on this season. Well, most seasons that is the case, really. The Bengals are coming off a 4-11 season. It was the first season for number one overall pick Joe Burrow and more will be expected in year two. It helps that Burrow now has his top target from LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase joining him. Two things bother me about this one for the Raiders. First of all, the Bengals are coming off a bye, so they will be well-prepared. Second of all, the Raiders are coming off facing the Chiefs. Why does that matter? Because they tend to put everything out there to try and knock off the juggernaut Chiefs and the result has been that their record over the past three seasons following a Chiefs game has been 1-4. I smell a trap.

Result: Loss (5-5)

Week 12: at Dallas Cowboys

Nov 5, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) warms up before the game against the Tennessee Titans at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It's a trip to Dallas to meet up with Amari Cooper and the Cowboys. Coop said recently that he thinks he's the best receiver in the league, but he just has yet to prove it. He didn't seem all that energized when he was with the Raiders, but he has been much more so in Dallas. And you can bet it will be turned up a few notches against his former team. Coop will probably make some plays, but he won't be the difference. The difference could be the Cowboys' dominant offensive line, giving Dak Prescott time to get the ball to Coop and second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb. You know, the guy who was considered by many to be the best receiver in the 2020 draft but who was selected behind Alabama teammates Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy only to outplay both of them. It's also Raider Nation vs America's Team in their house. So, can you say three-game losing streak? I'm sure if you've watched the Raiders finish out their last three seasons you can.

Result: Loss (5-6)

Week 13: vs Washington Football Team

Aug 20, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) hands the ball off to Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This team still doesn't have a permanent name? I mean, seriously, what could possibly be taking this long? Do they like having a prefix of WFT that makes everyone think the last two letters are flipped? I mean, it certainly fits. They made a definite WFT move this offseason signing 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick to be their QB. You know, the guy who has never appeared in a playoff game in a 16-year career? Don't get me wrong, I respect the hell out of Fitzmagic, but he's not the answer. He's not going to get this team where they want to be. He's a bridge QB for a team that looks like they have their sights set on 2022. Maybe that's why they haven't made the name change. The fresh start will wait until then.

Result: Win (6-6)

Week 14: at Kansas City Chiefs

Oct 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) catches a pass as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nevin Lawson (26) defends during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders return to Arrowhead for the first time since they snapped an 8-season losing streak last year. I don't see them pulling off another miracle. Get out the broom.

Result: Loss (6-7)

Week 15: at Cleveland Browns

Nov 1, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs the ball as Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) reaches to tackle him during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Browns proved they're for real. They came within a score of the AFC Championship, losing to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative Chiefs. For the Raiders, they will be playing at 10 am Pacific time in Cleveland in late December. I don't see anything positive coming out of that if you're the Raiders.

Result: Loss (6-8)

Week 16: vs Denver Broncos

Nov 15, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) is chased by Denver Broncos cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, I expect both these teams to be sitting below .500, hoping to finish strong and maybe creep back to a winning record and an outside chance at sneaking into the playoffs. The Broncos took the game in their house. Simply put, I see the Raiders fighting back and holding it down in their house.

Result: Win (7-8)

Week 17: at Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (20) runs around Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

What this team was able to do last season with Philip Rivers was impressive. They finished 11-5 with their offense and defense both ranked in the top ten in both points and yards. Now they embark on the Carson Wentz experiment. Things looked bleak for a bit there when Wentz broke his foot. But the latest reports are that he will be ready for the season opener. His refusal to get vaccinated could very well be his number one issue now as we've seen players have a difficult time, whether it be team chemistry or simply being sent home for several days every time there's a close contact situation. The defense in Indy is stout with the likes of All Pros such as DT Deforrest Buckner and LB Darius Leonard. But can the defense carry this team? I'm not so sure.

Result: Win (8-8)

Week 18: Los Angeles Chargers

Oct 25, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Weird typing Week 18. But that's our world now. No more finishing at .500. It's a winning season or a losing season. And this game will decide that for the Raiders. But will it matter? Sitting at 8-8, the Raiders will probably be out of the playoff race regardless of what happens in this game. The AFC is just too tough. Among those tough teams could be the Chargers who finished last season on a four-game winning streak. The Raiders got the better of the Chargers in LA earlier in the season and I see them returning the favor in Vegas.

Result: Loss (8-9)

Division: Third

Playoffs: No

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