We will know in a few hours when the Las Vegas Raiders will be scheduled to play their games next season. That will include when their home games will be (though crowds being there is still an uncertainty), what time their games will be, what a “difficult stretch” might look like, and how many are in primetime.
But we already know which teams the Raiders will face off against. How difficult is that slate of teams looking after free agency and the draft?
The defending Super Bowl champions, the team to beat in the division, and the team to be in the AFC. There’s no question who the dragon to slay is and nothing in the offseason has indicated that the Chiefs won’t be contending for a Super Bowl the next time they play. Chris Jones and Sammy Watkins both remain on the roster in spite of big 2020 cap hits, though that could change soon.
The Chargers finally parted with Philip Rivers, finally made a trade (acquiring Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner for Russell Okung), finally drafted a QBOTF in Justin Herbert, and finally traded up in a draft, selecting linebacker Kenneth Murray in the late first. I can see a path towards the Chargers improving on their 5-11 record of a year ago even without Rivers, though they’d be well ahead of schedule if they made the playoffs next season.
Denver Broncos x 2
They claim to be weaponizing Drew Lock and not scanning the market for a Cam Newton or anything at this point, so it really comes down to how well Lock performs. His offensive line might not be too bad, Courtland Sutton was great last season, and they added Jerry Jeudy in the first and receiver KJ Hamler in the second. They also signed Melvin Gordon to spell Phillip Lindsay. All told, I could see the Broncos winning 10 or more games next season, but if Lock is anything like Brock, they could go 4-12.
They fall short of the Super Bowl every year but they’ve been a consistent regular season nightmare for teams. If I was looking for a sleeper team for “bad” next year, the Saints have a case to be made. Especially if the Jameis Winston era starts in 2020.
Where Rivers went. The Colts have the offensive line to make them a contender to win 12+ games if Rivers plays a whole lot better than he did in 2019.
I was calling the Bucs “real contenders” at the end of the season, well before Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski joined the team. Now it looks as though the Bucs will be, if anything, overrated. But that doesn’t mean they can’t go 13-3 next year.
They went 5-4 over the last nine games but the Dolphins carrying that pace into next season looks increasingly unlikely. They’ve opted to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Rosen for now at QB and the offensive line has little reason for 2020 optimism (they drafted linemen in the first, second, and fourth rounds but you can never count on rookies to help significantly) so I won’t be surprised if Miami wins five games or fewer again. And I’d still be optimistic about their future.
Other than the Dolphins, the home schedule seems difficult. The Bills are always contenders to flop and Josh Allen is the type of QB who probably needs an elite defense and running game. I would say that the running game is “fine” and the defense is “good.” Is Buffalo’s defense from last season just getting better or did they peak? That’s one of the hardest things in football to predict. I have no idea who is going to win the AFC East.
Played well in the second half of the season. Waiting for that offensive line investment in the 2019 draft to pay off. Added Todd Gurley, Hayden Hurst, and Dante Fowler. Drafted AJ Terrell in the first and is hoping to get back Keanu Neal. Understandable optimism for 10-6, as well as caution for 6-10.
I was not buying them a year ago. I would not slot them above Pittsburgh or Baltimore right now. It comes down to head coach Kevin Stefanski and if he’s finally the first good hire for the Browns since Bill Belichick.
No, I think they are a bad team. I’m sure there are a lot of people who see a lot of positive offseason moves happening like Teddy Bridgewater and Russell Okung and Robby Anderson and Derrick Brown and think “better” but I see a backup QB starting, maybe the worst secondary in the NFL, and potentially one of the worst front-sevens too. They had a lot of sacks last season under Ron Rivera, but outside of Brian Burns, is there a proven building block on defense?
I imagine Belichick imagining himself winning a Super Bowl with a 2000 Ravens or 2002 Bucs type of team. And I don’t know, in that division, with that coach, I could see it. Then there’s just the basic rules of NFL football, which say that if Jarrett Stidham is your quarterback, you’re not gonna make the playoffs. Then again, none of us really know what the deal is with Stidham. Or if they’re going to add a veteran.
Is there even a decent team in the AFC East? I guess the Bills could be. The Jets could be too. But Sam Darnold was bad last season. He did some good things too, but he was also bad. If they traded Jamal Adams, who is the great player on that defense? Quinnen Williams could be, though he didn’t have a great rookie campaign. CJ Mosley does return, allegedly. The offensive line added Mekhi Becton, and I don’t think that’ll help immediately. Of all the Raiders’ games, the ones against the AFC East may be their best opportunity to rack up victories.
Or their test that shows they aren’t ready to contend.