I have tried to give up my professional sports habit in recent years. I just realized that there was no point in wasting my time spending money and getting upset over outcomes that have no impact on my life, health, or family’s wellbeing.
I have been largely successful in this pursuit. I haven’t watched an NBA or MLB game in three years. However, I can’t seem to shake the most frustrating and pointless of all of my life-long sports obsessions--being a Raiders fan.
Each year, I keep saying I’m not going to follow the Raiders and get my hopes up over a team that is just going to let me down. Each year I fail and get sucked back into following their every move.
This season is no different. I will be flying to Phoenix to watch the game with my friend, who happens to be a Ravens fan. Here are a few random thoughts and predictions on the outcome of Monday’s game, with a few season-long tidbits mixed in.
1. I call Week 1 the Super Bowl for Raiders fans, as optimism tends to tank the closer we get to the playoffs. Wish it were the opposite.
2. I bet a unit on the Raiders +6.5 weeks before the season. I have made a tidy sum the past two season betting against the Raiders, but I just feel like this game will be close. Gruden struggles to make decisions on the fly, but he is a great play designer and does his best work when given ample time to prepare and account for variables. He knows that any credibility he established in the league early in his career is mostly gone at this point, so this game is extremely important for him. For the Raiders to be non-competitive in this one would establish him as a laughingstock, causing him to lose the locker room and make him a lame duck for the rest of his monster contract. You also have to consider that Carr is entering his 4th year in the system and can’t use the "adjusting to a new scheme" excuse anymore. The defense will play inspired to prove that Guenther was the root of their issues last year. Lamar may take a quarter and a half to get in his rhythm. I know the Ravens have a strong track record on opening day, but I went against the masses in betting the Raiders +6.5. I honestly like them even at the current line of +3.5. I think it will be close, even if calling a Raiders win is more than I can do right now.
3. Many Raiders fans are saying that there is no excuse for the Raiders to lose this game given the rash of injuries to the Ravens. However, I don’t think the injuries hurt the Ravens all that much in this one. Even though the Ravens have a vaunted ground attack, losing multiple RB is far from the end of the world, as RB is arguably the most easily replaceable position in the league. There are so many talented guys out there. In fact, I have a sinking feeling that while everyone is wondering if Murray, Bell, or Freeman has anything left in the tank, this undrafted rookie, Williams, will burst onto the scene for them. Young legs with holes to run through can be effective regardless of resume. As far as the loss of Peters, I never saw Edwards or Ruggs being the key to us winning the game. Yes, I could have seen Peters picking off a Carr pass that was forced to Ruggs early, but Peters alone was never going to take one of our primary weapons out of the game, and I don’t think Gruden will change the game plan to try and build it around one of these unproven guys.
4. The Ravens have to know that with the signing of Drake and a young offense line, Gruden is going to want to run the ball a lot in this one. He is also carrying 4 TE to help protect the line. With the sentiment that "if there is one way to beat the Ravens defense, it's to run on them," I definitely see the Raiders trying to run it down their throat, and the Ravens will be ready for this. I actually see the first series for the Raiders being 1-yard run, 1-yard run, incomplete pass/checkdown, punt. They are also too well-coached to let Waller shred them. Therefore, if the Raiders want to win, Gruden can’t try to force the run unsuccessfully for too long. I hope he has plans to get Hunter Renfrow involved early and often, as he could be the key to this game. Carr is comfortable with him, he has had a big camp, and if Renfrow goes over 100 yards, I think the Raiders have a real chance.
5. I hate to put the bad vibes out there, but someone between Carr, Jacobs, and Waller is due for an ACL this year. Unfortunately, the most likely candidate is Waller, as he has played 16 games the last two years and handled an insane workload, so the odds are against him making it through this season.
6. The defense will be improved this year. Maybe not the upper-half of the league, but we will be saying that if we had this defense the last two years, we would have made the playoffs. The trouble for building teams is that progress in one area is usually offset by regression somewhere else. Most fans are pointing to the offensive line as the likely culprit. However, I’m going to say Daniel Carlson. Even those of us predicting playoffs cannot reasonably assume we will be blowing out teams this year. As such, it will likely take a minimum of 3 walk-off kicks for us to reach the postseason, and Carlson just doesn’t inspire confidence in me. Many fans look at his simple statistics and wonder why he is only signed through this year. However, numbers belie his career with the Raiders. In his first year, he only missed one FG, but he came in after the start of the season for one of the worst teams in the league. There was absolutely no pressure on him, making for the perfect environment in which to "find himself" after the MNF debacle in Minnesota. In year 2, he was nothing short of terrible, making just over 70% of his kicks. He was very much kicking for his job in camp prior to year 3. After winning the job, he made a cool 94% of his field goal attempts last year. However, this was buffered by a historically high 18/18 on kicks inside of 30 yards, meaning that the majority of his attempts were significantly less than extra point distance. And his two missed XP last year really stick in my craw. Many remember the missed XP against the Dolphins that kept the score within 6 and made the Arden Key/Damon Arnette meltdown complete. However, his miss in Arrowhead that kept the Chiefs within two scores was equally infuriating and after Mahomes quickly drove and made the 2PC, I thought another meltdown was within reach. Thank heavens Derek managed to pull off a second 4th and 1 sneak in the same game to ice it (who would have called that?). Yes, Carlson’s kick to seal the game against the Saints was as big as they come, but in the end, I lack confidence, and I see us losing games due to kicking woes this year.
Those are my random thoughts. Let me know where I am off base!