Weakest SOS early turns to toughest stretch run
As I was looking at the schedule, it occurred to me that the Raiders faced teams with mostly losing records over the first half of the season, and the level of competition got much tougher over the second half. What I didn't know was just to what degree that was true.
As it turns out the Raiders have the easiest strength of schedule in the league over the first 8 games (.383) and the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL over the final 8 games (.617). A statistic discovered by ESPN stats and info.
Over those first 8 games, the Raiders face just one team who finished 2015 with a winning record - the Chiefs (11-5). The remaining seven teams have a combined record of 38-74.
After that the tables turn completely. It's a mirror image opposite with just one team in the final 8 games with a LOSING record - Chargers (4-12). The remaining seven teams have a combined record of 75-37.
The result is an exact 128-128 (.500) record. And the Raiders will have to prove it over that brutal stretch run.
Open season against former head coach
To start the season the Raiders will head to New Orleans where they will face their former head coach Dennis Allen, now defensive coordinator for the Saints. Allen was hired by the Saints as a defensive assistance in January of 2015 under Rob Ryan - a former longtime defensive coordinator for the Raiders. Allen took over as DC when Ryan was fired late last season. Allen retained the job this season and will face the Raiders for the first time since he was fired four games into the 2014 season.
Allen will have to defend players who were drafted under his tenure such as Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, and Gabe Jackson. While guiding what was statistically the worst defense in the NFL last year.
One game on dirt
To begin the season, the Raiders will have just one home game in the first four weeks. That game is week two against the Falcons. Then it's two road games in Tennessee and Baltimore, not returning to Oakland until October 9 against the Chargers. If the A's fail to make the baseball playoffs, their final game at the coliseum in Oakland would be September 25. That would mean the Raiders will play on the dirt infield just once next season, returning to sod that has had two weeks in place.
Baltimore never before
Last season the Raiders pulled out an emotional victory over the Ravens for their first win of the season. It was just their second ever win over the Ravens in their brief history. Both of those wins came in Oakland. The Raiders have never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore.
Two week layover in Florida?
In weeks 7 and 8 the Raiders have back to back games in Florida in Jacksonville and Tampa. As we all know West coast teams don't fare well on average when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Raiders broke a long losing streak in the East last season with a win in Cleveland in week three. But the difficulty remains. To West coast teams, a 1pm Eastern time start is like 10am to them and it can put them a bit out of whack. Which makes two straight games on the opposite coast all the more difficult. But what if they stay in Florida in between?
It's not unheard of. Northern Florida is certainly quite familiar for Jack Del Rio who was the head coach of the Jaguars for nine seasons. And instead of two straight East Coast trips, switching back and forth with the three-hour time difference, they stay in Florida and acclimate to the time difference as well as the humidity. Something to think about.
Vive Aldon Smith
Smith can apply for reinstatement as early as mid-September for his suspension to end on time in November. The date of his one-year suspension to be up in November 17. That is not a convenient date in the least.
Should he be reinstated that day, it would mean he would be unable to get ready with the team over their bye week. It would also mean he would return four days before the Raiders face the Texans in Mexico City November 21.
What's interesting here is Smith signed with the Raider three days before the start of last season and yet still saw time in the season opener against the Bengals. Though he didn't start and that game was in Oakland.
For this game, he would be back a couple days before the team hops a flight for an international game. Hard to say if the Raiders would throw him in the lineup that quickly after a year away from the team in another country. It sure would be a welcome gesture for the commissioner to reinstate him before the bye week. But I wouldn't hold your breath on that happening.
Prove it against Super Bowl teams
We already talked about the tough schedule over the final eight games of the season. Well, three of those games are against the two teams that played in the Super Bowl. Week 9 against the Broncos, week 12 against the Panthers, and the season finale in Denver. Quite a trial by fire. If the Raiders get through that and make the playoffs, they will have earned it. If it makes you feel any better, the Chiefs and Chargers are in the same situation.
Young QB's facing off
The top quarterback talents drafted over the past two seasons have been Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota. The Raiders and Derek Carr will face three of the other four other young quarterbacks this season when they take on the Titans (Mariota) in week 3, the Jaguars (Bortles) week 7, and Buccaneers (Winston) in week 8.