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Goro's 2016 Raiders season predictions

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A look back at some keys from 2015 and then a look forward to 2016 and my best guess about what we have to look forward to.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In retrospect, 2015 was a surprisingly solid season that seems like it came about a year earlier than expected. The offense came together fairly rapidly until struggling at the end of the year, while the defense worked in the opposite direction.

Every team has to deal with adversity; that's the nature of the game and is a big reason why we love it so much. We begin with a quick look back at some of the things that the 2015 Raiders team had to deal with :

What went Wrong?

  • Ken Norton was learning on the job and the game was very fast for him
  • Menelik Watson injured In Preseason, bringing J'Marcus Webb as starting RG and moving Austin Howard to RT
  • In the first game, lost starters Nate Allen and Justin Ellis and had Charles Woodson substantially injured
  • Larry Asante and Taylor Mays became starters and/or key players
  • Amari Cooper injured his foot in the latter half of the season
  • Rodney Hudson injury bringing Tony Bergstrom into starting C
  • Crabtree, Seth Roberts injured and out v Green Bay
  • Austin Howard injured moving J'Marcus Webb to RT, rookie John Feliciano to starting RG
  • Curtis Lofton was not the answer at MLB and was replaced
  • Neiron Ball injured shortly after working into starting lineup
  • Mario Edwards injury in first series in Week 15.
  • Khalil Mack hamstring injury
  • Roy Helu injury
  • Taiwan Jones injury
  • Ray Ray

Injuries are definitely part of the game and it's actually quite impressive that this Raiders' team that did not really have that much depth at key positions was able to overcome several key players being hurt.

Most of those injuries listed speak for themselves, but there is one that had seemingly far reaching effects.

This one :

The Raiders had their safety duo of Charles Woodson and Nate Allen set and prepared, but early in the 2nd series, Allen tore his meniscus on this play and was out for several games. He was replaced in the lineup by Larry Asante and Taylor Mays and there was an immediate impact (compounded by CWood's own shoulder injury).

Here's a table showing tight end production against the Raiders coverage :

G Tar Rec Yds Avg TD YPG TDPG
Weeks 1-3 3 30 20 297 14.9 6 99 2
Weeks 4-17 13 97 56 583 10.4 4 44.8 0.3
Rate Delta 4.4 54.2 (55%) 1.7 (85%)

With Allen out and Asante/Mays in for those first 3 games, the opposing tight ends feasted. It took a little while for Ken Norton to adjust, but after that, the defense started to play much better.

It's not an excuse. The NFL is so unrelenting and demanding that it does not really allow for teams to make excuses. In the Raiders' case, the team had some early adversity and the rookie DC Ken Norton had to adjust on the fly. It was not ideal, but that effort and experience was key to the overall team improvement as well as Norton's own progress.

Anchoring

There's a concept from the Decision Making field called "anchoring bias". From wikipedia :

Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions. During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments.

When looking to the upcoming season, fans will typically engage in "anchoring" whether they realize it or not. They look back to the previous year, reflect on the close losses, determine how the team improved, and then make a prediction based on the previous season + a few wins. So typically, the Raiders' fans will be predicting 9-7 at worst and often 10-6 or better.

Here's an exercise in anchoring, by looking back at some key details.

Playing "What If...?"

  • 11 games were within 1 score (8 pts). In those games, Raiders were 6-5
  • 5 games were within 1 FG. In those games, Raiders were 3-2
  • 5 games were greater than 1 score. In those games, Raiders were 1-4, the lone win was a 14 point victory over the Jets when starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was knocked out and Geno Smith replaced him.

Of the 11 one-score games, the Raiders won 6 (.545). These were

  • Baltimore, 37-33
  • Cleveland, 27-20
  • San Diego, 37-29
  • Tennessee, 24-21
  • Denver, 15-12
  • San Diego, 23-20 in OT

and they lost 5 of them :

  • Denver, 10-16
  • Chicago, 20-22
  • Pittsburgh, 35-38
  • Detroit, 13-18
  • Kansas City, 17-23

In large margin games, the Raiders were 1-4 (.200)

  • Cincinnati, 13-33
  • Minnesota, 14-30
  • Kansas City, 20-34
  • Green Bay, 20-30

Narrow Losses

If we look back at the 5 close losses, it's easy to find key moments that could have gone the other way :

Week 4 : CHI

  • Latavius bobbles an easy pass and it goes for an Int
  • Bears' DT Eddie Goldman drives Latavius down on his shoulder, causing an injury
  • Latavius Fumbles on the toss play that had perfect blocking out in front and instead of a big gain and first down, it's a turnover.

  • On key 3rd down, with Roy Helu running, Clive Walford is late off the snap, misses a block, and drive stalls.
  • 4th down on the game winning drive. Ray Ray has smothering coverage on TE Martellus Bennett, but an absolute perfect pass beats him.

Week 5 : DEN

  • 2 Missed FGs
  • Pick 6

Week 9 : PIT

  • Heath Miller called for holding on the game winning drive, but the penalty was assessed from the wrong location.
  • Latavius makes a nice run but then a punishing hit by Mike Mitchell into Latavius' face causes the fumble at PIT 25 yardline
  • Taiwan fumbles on the kickoff, recovered by Pittsburgh on the Oakland 6. 2 plays later, TD.
  • Amari had a TD reception, but can't drag his foot. Next play is an interception.

Week 11 : DET

  • 13-9 Raiders at the beginning of the 4th Quarter
  • Taiwan Jones injured not active, so Amari Cooper returning punts
  • Neiko Thorpe's holding penalty on a punt near the end of the 4th quarter moved the Raiders from the 16 to the 9 and eventually led to a safety.

Week 17 : KC

  • Many Missed opportunities, but none so painful as this one.

A perfectly set up play that is destroyed because of a poor play by Latavius Murray who gets in the way of Feliciano's block :

The moral to this story is that in close games, there are naturally key plays that made the difference. That's the nature of close games.

Wide Losses

Even in some of the larger margin games, you can find key moments where the game turned and may have been saved just "If..."

Week 1 : CIN

  • Ray Ray loses contain on 3rd-and-1 and allows a 10 yard Jeremy Hill run.
  • 3rd and goal and Ray Ray loses contain and allows the TD
  • Jamize Big Run called back on holding

Week 10 : MIN

  • Wind was a problem all day
  • Raiders take the lead 14-13 with 2:00 remaining in the first half, then on the kickoff, Neiko Thorpe gets out of his lane and Cordarrelle Patterson runs the kickoff back for the TD. Wind caused the decision to squib the kick?

Week 15 : GB

  • Amari's foot was injured and bothering him
  • Crabtree left the game injured
  • Seth Roberts left the game injured
  • Mario Edwards injured his neck on the first series

The Week 1 game against Cincinnati was probably going to be a loss regardless, but the tone of the game was definitely set early when the Bengals were able to convert 2 huge 3rd downs because Ray Ray Armstrong left his containment duties. Or the Minnesota game completely changed when Patterson ran the squib kick back for a TD so that the Vikings were able to take a lead into halftime.

The Green Bay game was marred by injuries to the Raiders and Derek Carr had a poor game.

Even in relatively big losses, there are a few crucial plays early on that could have gone a long way to deciding the game.

Narrow Wins

But what's also interesting to note is that in the close wins, there are key moments that could have very easily gone the other way and resulted in a loss. In fact, at times, Raiders' fans should feel a bit fortunate that the games ended up as wins.

Week 2 : BAL

  • Flacco overthrows wide open Steve Smith near end of game

  • Def Penalty called negating interception that could have ended the game

Week 3 : CLE

  • Muffed punt
  • Marquette King Punt downed by Taiwan Jones at the 1 yardline that easily could have been called a touchback.

Week 7 : SD

  • Allowed The Comeback
  • 23 points in the 4th quarter
  • 3 TDs + 2 2 pt conversions
  • 3 failed onside kicks in the 4th quarter, starting at 12:58

Week 12 : TEN

  • Rain causing problems all over
  • 4th down, Carr throws an incompletion deep to Andre Holmes in double coverage, but is bailed out on a defensive holding penalty on the opposite side of the field.

Week 14 : DEN

  • Muffed punt by Emmanuel Sanders gives the Raiders the ball at the DEN 15. Rivera scores a touchdown 4 plays later.
  • 4th down drop by Vernon Davis with 3:50 left in the game and a 3 point deficit

Week 16 : SD

  • In OT, 2nd-and-29 converted by Denzell Perryman personal foul penalty

Wide Win

In the lone wide margin win, the Raiders also benefitted from a key play early on.

Week 8 v NYJ

  • Knocked out Ryan Fitzpatrick early on bringing Geno Smith into the game

Fitzpatrick staying healthy may or may not have made any difference, but it certainly FELT like the game swung in the Raiders' favor when Geno Smith entered.

Predictions

There were little plays here and there that determined so many wins and losses. The Raiders were 7-9, but with a little more misfortune or a play not made here and there (or made by the opposition) and there could be as much as a 6 game swing to 1-15. And yet on the flipside, had a few things gone the Raiders' way or they had made a key play here or there, it could have meant as much as 6 more wins to 13-3.

Saying that the 2015 team was somewhere between 1-15 and 13-3 is a pretty ridiculous statement and yet that is sort of what it is reduced to when we anchor back to it. It becomes less meaningful, though, if we anchor to ONLY the positives

Should we say, assume all the close wins stay wins and we only improve upon the close losses then we start getting a even more skewed view of the team.

And this is a primary reason that it is so difficult to predict wins and losses for an upcoming year.

How many close games to you expect the Raiders will be in? 10? 12? 16?

Each one of those close games is going to hinge on about 2-3 plays (or maybe even just one play) that make the difference. It's impossible to really predict what that one play will be or what the result of that one key play will be.

In the 2016 Opener, the difference between Denver winning and Carolina winning was a Gary Kubiak timeout at 0:09. If Kubiak does not "ice" the kicker, Graham Gano's field goal goes thru the uprights and the Panthers win; as it was, the timeout makes Gano wait and then on the try, it is wide left and the Broncos win.

If the Panthers somehow have a disappointing season, the fans will point to that as one of those close "should've"-games.

Despite the fact that this team appears much improved compared to last year, my personal feel is that the team is not improved enough to win many games by large margins. Instead, I'm going to say that this team is going to be playing a lot of close games, so it's going to come down to crucial plays at the end of the game, some by the offense to get the winning score or run out the clock, some by the defense to shut down the opposition.

Because of that the team is very similar to how it was last year and the final record will be dependent on those little plays. I'll go with 7-9 to 9-7 as what I think the team will end up. And if pressed for a precise number, I'll take 8-8.

Here are a few more thoughts about the upcoming year :

  • Ken Norton Jr will feel much more comfortable as the Defensive Coordinator and the game will start "slowing down" for him. Last year, particularly in the first few games, he was at times having trouble getting calls and substitutions done in time. He got past that late last year, so this year we should see none of that.
  • Opposing teams will use A LOT of QB bootlegs / fake bootlegs to try to hold the backside edge defenders (esp Denver and KC)
  • Early in the season, there will be a few painful missed tackles at the 2nd and 3rd level.
  • Latavius will have a great game within the first month, but it won't quiet the critics
  • DeAndre Washington / Jalen Richard  will NOT unseat Latavius Murray as the starter
  • LB's will cover RB's and TE's much better than they did early in 2015. Having the safety tandem healthy will help keep those coverage duties sound.
  • Defensive Front will take some time to gel still.
  • Offensive Line will grow together but will take a few weeks. Latter half of the season (if healthy) will start impressing
  • There will be some coverage gaffes early on
  • There will be several unexpected injuries that will hamper this team and depth is going to prove crucial. We'll have a look at some of these young guys that impressed so much in preseason.
  • Reggie Nelson and/or Nate Allen will get hurt early and force Karl Joseph onto the field a little earlier than Norton would like.
  • Young players like Jihad Ward, Karl Joseph, Darius Latham, Shilique Calhoun, Cory James, Ben Heeney, Clive Walford, DeAndre Washington will make some fantastic plays but will also make crucial mistakes. Pat Kirwan says count on 1 loss per rookie that is in the starting lineup.
  • Raiders will play every team tough and will have more than 10 games that end up within one score.
  • Seabass will have 3+ game winners
  • Derek Carr and Amari are going to have a 4-5 game stretch where they look untouchable.
  • Raiders will struggle to rush for TD's in the red zone. Jamize Olawale will be the go-to Zack Crockett-wannabe, but will only be so-so.
  • Opposing defenses will focus on Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and will give DeAndre Washington and Clive Walford some opportunities in the middle of the field
  • Derek Carr is going to judiciously scramble or run the QB keeper more than last year, but it will still be rare. Just enough to 'keep 'em honest'.
  • Carr is going to take another step forward, but will have a few stretches where he struggles.
  • If Cory James gets an opportunity to start (injury to starter), he won't give up the position afterward.
  • The offense will be more under center and less shotgun than last year.
  • Marcel Reece will not be missed the first three games.
  • If healthy, the Raiders coming out of the Week 10 bye is going to show the best of this team.
  • After the Week 10 bye, the defense will be at full strength, with Mario Edwards Jr coming back (week 8), Jihad Ward with seasoning, Darius Latham proving he's a key rotational player, Karl Joseph ramped up, fully healhty, and taking over as a starter.
  • After the Week 10 bye, the offensive line will be at full strength, fully in sync, and ready to battle with Houston's defensive front.
  • After the Week 10 bye, we'll start noticing a little swag in Amari's step.
  • Marquette King is going to hit at least one 60+ yard punt (not in Denver).
  • Marquette King is going to have 6+ amazing punts that flip field position or pin the opponent inside the 10.
  • Punt coverage team is going to be a strength of this team. Taiwan Jones, Daren Bates, Andre Holmes, Jon Condo, et al.
  • Khalil Mack will play noticeably better this year, but will draw more attention. He will not have another 5.0 sack game.
  • Teams will spend most of the time running away from Mack, so Bruce will have to show up strong against the run (and he will).
  • Someone other than Mack and Bruce will have several surprising sacks and QB pressures this year due to attention paid to Mack and Irvin (mostly Mack).
  • It is going to be incredibly fun to follow this team this year.
  • It is only going to get better from here on in.