The preseason power rankings have begun. Pro Football Talk began theirs Monday, beginning with number 32 in their power rankings. And it began in the exact same place it began last year -- Oakland.
For the second-straight season, PFT's Mike Wilkening put the Raiders as his projected worst team in the NFL. Yes, preseason power rankings are meaningless, and I was initially hesitant to give this one any more attention than it deserved. Be that as it may, it can be interesting to get an idea of how the rest of the football world views what the Raiders have been doing of late.
The article itself breaks down into several categories: Strengths, weaknesses, changes, camp battles, and prospects.
For the most part the whole thing reads pretty objective and straight forward, making the Raiders seem like they could actually be a decent team. If I had read this without knowing the rank, I would have thought they were ranked somewhere in the 20's. But I guess that's what the worst team in the NFL looks like.
They begin in the expected place - the 30+ age of the team's free agent additions. Among those being three defensive linemen Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, and Antonio Smith. They add in Maurice Jones-Drew, pointing out his 3.4 yards per carry average last season.
Then Wilkening immediately contradicts himself.
He begins with the strengths and topping his list is the running game, with the aforementioned Maurice Jones-Drew, who is too old and past his prime but somehow leads out the team's number one strength. Then he continues with the defensive front seven which included the three of the over aged defensive linemen Tuck, Woodley, and Smith.
He then suggests the Raiders receiving corps could surprise. Though it's hard to see how he thinks the receivers will make noise considering topping off the list of weaknesses is the quarterback position with Schaub and rookie Derek Carr.
For what it's worth, the quarterback position led off the 2013 weaknesses as well. Apparently he doesn't think Schaub, Carr, and Matt McGloin are an upgrade to Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, Tyler Wilson, and McGloin.
He also mentions the secondary as a weakness, specifically the cornerback position. Then he finishes it off with the injury history and age of many of the players.
The next category is "Changes" which focuses mostly on the offensive line which will look very different this season with Stefen Wisniewski as the only sure returning starter. Though no overall opinion is given of whether this group has been upgraded, he sees Penn as "an above average left tackle at his best", taking over for the departed Jared Veldheer.
Finishes things off is the Raiders "Prospects" for the season, and this is where the schedule seems to take precedent over most anything else. This statement caught my attention:
"The Raiders must make the most of a favorable early schedule. Four of Oakland's first six games are home, and the Raiders face just two 2013 playoff teams (New England, San Diego) in their first seven games."
I had to do some research here but discovered that Oakland is in California not England. Playing in London in week four will give OAKLAND one less game. Not exactly the picture of home cooking painted here. Though the Raiders could move sometime in the near future, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
That being said, I do agree the NFL did its best to remove the sting out of the Raiders' tough schedule and the Raiders must make the most of every opportunity they get. The schedule does get downright brutal after that.
If the schedule was just factored in with regard to a record prediction, there would be nothing wrong with that. But based on their response to some angry Raiders fans, the tough schedule seems to be the overriding reason for the rankings.
To Raiders fans complaining about the team being last in the rankings: (1) someone has to be 32; and (2) have you looked at the schedule?— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 7, 2014
This makes me wonder if they understand the meanings of power rankings. Predicting they record at the end of the season is one thing. This may seem like semantics, but consider those teams who makes the playoffs each year. If their "power" was decided simply by their record, the team with the best record would win the Super Bowl every year. In reality, it's almost never the team with the NFL's best record who wins it all.
When dealing with the Raiders these days, we're not really talking much about playoffs, but if they had an easier schedule, would that somehow make them a more ‘powerful' team? Absolutely not. Therefore basing power rankings on such things is decidedly flawed.
Preseason power rankings can be fun and interesting. But using something that is entirely out of the Raiders' control (the schedule), and "someone has to be 32" is not exactly groundbreaking analysis.