The Raiders 2015 Schedule Review

2015_DS_schedulerelease_splashpageFor the first time in three years, I’m looking at the Raiders schedule on #NFLschedulereleaseday and thinking, “We’re definitely not going 0-16 this year!” The 2015 schedule is actually quite favorable for Oakland. Last year the Raiders traveled 10,000 more miles than any other team. This year, the Raiders have their first two games at home, don’t travel to the eastern time zone until week 9 and have a competent Quarterback! I’ll go through each game rank how excited I am.

Week 1: Cin @ Oak

The Return of Hue! Hue Jackson will definitely try to make Reggie McKenzie pay for unceremoniously firing him after the 2010 season. I’m sure McKenzie won’t forget Hue trading away all of McKenzies draft picks before he even got here.

Excitement level: 8/10

Week 2: Bal @ Oak

The Raiders will get to stay in Oakland to open the season, but will face two playoff teams from last year. Baltimore have definitely gotten weaker, losing Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith and Gary Kubiak. I’m excited to see the new-look Raider’s front seven against a Raven’s run game that averaged 4.5 ypc last season.

Excitement level: 5/10

Week 3: Oak @ Cle

The first road game of the season for the Raiders is in the Dawg Pound. There are a lot of great match-ups in this one. Khalil Mack vs. Joe Thomas, Amari Cooper(?) vs. Joe Haden, Johnny Football vs. his urge to down a pint when he dives into the Dawg Pound and gets Coors spilled all over him!

Excitement level: 7/10

Week 4: Oak @ Chi

The Raider’s will head to the historic Soldier Field in week 4 to face a couple of former Broncos. John Fox had a lot of success against the Raiders during his time with Denver, but he doesn’t have Peyton Manning anymore. He has the opposite. Charles Woodson will hope to be on the receiving end of a couple of Jay Cutler ducks.

Excitement level: 7/10

Week 5: Den @ Oak

The first divisional opponent on the schedule will be the Broncos. Denver will enter the O.co with a new coach and a new scheme, but with the same quarterback. Peyton Manning hasn’t lost to the Raiders since joining the Broncos, and his arm will still be attached to his body by week 5.

Excitement Level: 6/10

Week 6: BYE

Great position for the Raiders to have a bye. The first 5 weeks could be tough for Oakland and this could be the perfect time to regroup.

Week 7: Oak @ SD

Coming out of the bye week, the Raiders have a short trip down south for their second divisional game. It’ll be an extra home game for the Raiders as Los Angeles Raider fans will travel well to San Diego. If the Chargers are stupid enough to trade Philip Rivers, Raiders fans might make up 100% of the crowd at Qualcomm come week 7.

Excitement Level: 8/10

Week 8: NYJ @ Oak

Todd Bowels brings the Jets and all of their DBs to Oakland for a week 8 matchup that may be a turning point for the Raiders season. We will learn all we need to know about Derek Carr in this game. If Carr can survive Revis Island, Cromartie Peninsula and Skrine Isthmus, the Raiders will know that he is their franchise QB.

Excitement Level: 8/10

Week 9: OAK @ Pit

The Raiders make their first trip to the dreaded eastern time zone in week 9 as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on Big Ben and the Steelers. After facing what may be the toughest secondary in the league, Carr, Cooper (?) and company will face a weak set of DBs in Pittsburgh.

Excitement Level: 7/10

Week 10: Min @ Oak

Possibly the two best QBs from the 2014 draft class will go head to head for the first time. The Raiders will be going against the best RB in the league (If Adrian Peterson stays). The best matchup for the Raiders will be the battles of the K(h)alils. The liability Matt Kalil will have his hands full with the Raider’s Khalil Mack.

Excitement Level: 9/10

Week 11: Oak @ Det

The last time these two teams met, Megatron went off and erased a 13 point deficit in the fourth quarter on his own. He may do the same thing with the current crop of CBs the Raiders are starting. TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden will have their hands full with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

Excitement Level: 7/10

Week 12: Oak @ Ten

This is probably the best away game to go to for Raiders fans. Visit the Music City, do some Elvis stuff and possibly see the Raiders win! Unless, of course the Titans acquire Philip Rivers. But then you’ll get to see Rivers crying, so there’s that.

Excitement Level: 4/10

Week 13: KC @ Oak

These two division rivals don’t see each other until week 13. The Raiders front seven will have their hands full with Jamal Charles. He’s not only a weapon in the run game, but very dangerous in the screen game. Newcomers Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Smith and Dan Williams will have a chance to prove to the Raider Nation that they were worth the investments.

Excitement Level: 8/10

Week 14: Den @ Oak

If the Broncos don’t preserve Manning’s arm throughout the season, he may not have one in Oakland come week 14. The Raiders are younger than the Broncos and will have a much better chance defeating the defending AFC West champs in their second meeting. 

Excitement Level: 9/10

Week 15: GB @ Oak

Aaron Rodgers will return to where he played college ball. The only way the Raiders will be able to compete against the Packers will be by controlling the clock. With Latavius Murray, Roy Helu Jr. and (gulp) Trent Richardson leading the way, it’s hard to see that happening.

Excitement Level: 6/10

Week 16: SD @ Oak

On Christmas Eve, the Raiders will have their only primetime game of the season against the Chargers. Carr is 1-0 under the lights and looks to be the type of player that thrives for these kind of moments.

Excitement Level: 9/10

Week 17: Oak @ KC

The Raiders finish up the regular season in Kansas City. The offensive line will have to work hard to keep Carr clean as Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are the best pass rushing duo in the league. Could this game actually mean something for the Raiders?

Excitement Level: 9/10

I’m obviously very excited for the upcoming season and, like all fans of terrible teams, I’m looking at the schedule and thinking, “I could see us getting to 8-8…”

Analyzing the Michael Crabtree Signing

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On Monday, the Oakland Raiders signed former San Francisco 49ers Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree to a one year deal. Many are calling the signing a “low-risk, high reward” deal, but we’ll look a little deeper at how Crabtree could hurt or help both the Raiders and himself.

Contract:

The Crabtree deal is for one year, $3 million, basically fully guaranteed. Crabtree will earn an additional $400,000 for 70 catches or 900 yards and $1.4 million for 100 catches or 1,400 yards. If all incentives are reached, Crabtree will earn $5 million for his one year deal.

Pros and Cons:

Needless to say, the Raiders and Raider Nation will be ecstatic if Crabtree reaches all of his incentives, but that is highly unlikely. No Raider receiver had more than 700 yards last year and James Jones led the team with only 73 catches. There is reason to believe that Crabtree and second year QB Derek Carr can be compatible. One of Carr’s best throws is the back shoulder fade. The throw requires the receiver to be able to make quick adjustments, locate the ball and often make a difficult catch. Crabtree has all of those abilities.

With Bill Musgrave coming over from Philadelphia to become the Raiders offensive coordinator, the Raiders may move to a hurry-up offense featuring more screens and slants. Crabtree has had success running these underneath routes because he is so shifty. He doesn’t have the speed to beat a corner deep, (that sound you hear is Al Davis turning in his grave) but his route running ability in tight windows is superb.

Speed is the main reason the receiver-needy Raiders took Darius Heyward-Bey instead of Crabtree in the 2008 NFL Draft. In case you didn’t know, Davis kind of liked speed. But speed is not the most concerning trait about Crabtree. His most concerning trait is that he is made of glass. Crabtree is injured a lot. He hasn’t missed a game after missing almost the entire 2013 regular season with an achilles injury, but he hasn’t been the same either. If he does not regain some of the explosiveness he showed in 2012, the signing will be seen as a bust.

With all that said, Crabtree’s attitude is what the Raiders should be most worried about. Whether it be his long rookie holdout, or training camp apathy, or complaining about his role in the offense, Crabtree has been a “diva.” This can be a very dangerous personality to have around a young, QB in Carr, who is looking to become the team’s leader. But, while this fire in Crabtree could blow up the team, it could also ignite Crabtree’s play on the field. Crabtree must know this is his last chance at a big contract in the NFL. If Crabtree’s agent is worth anything, he is showing Crabtree footage of great WRs (Terrel Owens, Randy Moss, etc.) that have been blackballed by the NFL because of their attitude problems.

Future:

The signing of Crabtree doesn’t change anything about the Raiders draft plans. They will still take a receiver with the No.4 overall pick and may take a slot guy in the third round. Crabtree will hope to be second on the depth chart behind the new rookie. If he doesn’t have any explosiveness left, he could wind up being the fourth option.

Projected Depth Chart: Wide Receiver:

X-Reciever: Rookie Round 1 (Amari Cooper/Kevin White)

Y-Receiver: Crabtree/ James Jones

Slot: Rookie Round 3 (Tyler Lockette?)

Reserve: Holmes, Butler, Thompkins

THE OAKLAND RAIDERS FREE AGENCY WISH LIST: RIGHT TACKLE

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Can we please give Reggie McKenzie some credit for the moves he made along the offensive line last year? After allowing Jared Veldheer to walk and the failed signing of Roger Saffold, everyone (including Veldheer’s mom) was telling McKenzie that he was an idiot. He signed Donald Penn to a 2-year, $ 9.6 million deal. Penn was not only way cheaper than Veldheer, but he was way better. The Raiders and Cardinals had terrible rushing attacks, but running off left tackle (which Penn and Veldheer play) the raiders were much better. According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders averaged 4.14 adjusted line yards a carry while the Cardinals averaged just 2.93 yards. The Raiders were also better in pass protection according to Football Outsiders.

Position: RT

If the Raiders re-sign center Stefan Wisniewski, and I think they should, the only position of need along the offensive line is at right tackle. McKenzie’s 2013 second round pick, Menelik Watson, seems like a great person, but hasn’t panned out as a starting right tackle. The Raiders averaged a league low 77.5 yards rushing per game last year. Most of Oakland stuffing percentage came when running off of the right end and right tackle according to Football Outsiders. Luckily, some options should be available to McKenzie and the Raiders in free agency.

Target 1: Andre Smith

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The one thing we know about McKenzie, is that he likes his offensive linemen powerful. With the addition of guards Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard, McKenzie’s clear message was that the Raiders are going to be big and strong. There aren’t many NFL players bigger or stronger than Andre Smith. The Bengals RT will likely be cut this offseason, as he tore his triceps last year and carries a big cap number.

Pros: Smith is an absolute monster in the run game. This is the type of RT a run-first team is looking for. He can move people and create a new line of scrimmage. He is also competent in pass coverage.

Cons: Smith’s release is not a sure thing so the Raiders may not get a shot at him. It is not know how well he is recovering from his triceps tear. Smith has also had weight issues and may not be in shape after not playing for an entire year. He also may not be the smartest dude in the world as he tried to board a plane with a gun.

Contract: 3 years, $9 million, $4 million guaranteed

Target 2: Bryan Bulaga

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McKenzie loves to pick up Green Bay castoffs and Bulaga is surely going to be on his radar. The Packer’s right tackle has been a staple since McKenzie and company drafted him in Green Bay in 2010. He has been the best offensive lineman on a team that protects Aaron Rodgers.

Pros: Bulaga has gotten better every year he’s been in the league and is still very young (25 years old). He’s great in pass and run protection. He can also bring a toughness to an offensive line that lacks an identity.

Cons: Green Bay will likely re-sign him. The offensive line there has finally jelled and have great chemistry. He has a history of injuries, having not played a full season since his rookie year. He is going to command a lot of money as he is in his prime.

Contract: 6 years, $36 million, $16 million guaranteed

Target 3: Doug Free

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The Cowboys offensive line is its strongest asset, but they’re going to have to let Doug Free go. They don’t have the money to pay Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Free (among other free agents). Free and the rest of the Cowboy’s offensive line has had a great year opening holes for a record breaking running back in Murray. When running off of right tackle, the Cowboys are third in the league in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders.

Pros: Free has become a great pass protector and uses great leverage to open holes in the running game. He still has a few good years ahead of him as he is 31 years old. He’ll be blocking for Latavius Murray, who shares more similarities with DeMarco than just a sir name.

Cons: Free did not play well after getting his last contract extension. There is a fear that he could become complacent on what will likely be his last contract in the NFL. He is coming off of a foot injury that may hinder him early next season.

Contract: 3 Years, $9.5 million, $4.5 million guaranteed

THE OAKLAND RAIDERS FREE AGENCY WISH LIST: WIDE RECEIVERS

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Under Al Davis, two things were certain about the Raiders: They were going to draft speed and they were going to overpay someone in free agency.  Whether it be DeAngelo Hall (7 years, $70 million), Lamont Jordan (5 years, $27.5 million), Javon Walker (6 years, $55 million), or Tommy Kelly (7 years, $50.5 million), Davis has always paid more than market value for over-the-hill players.

Reggie McKenzie has stopped all of the crazy spending, but may need to break out the checkbook to lure top free agents to Oakland. With his job surely on the line this year, McKenzie will need to make a big splash in free agency if he hopes to lead this team back to excellence.

Position: WR

The biggest hole on the Raiders roster is easily wide receiver. The Raiders had trouble stretching the field, getting open, making catches… basically everything. In order to give Derek Carr the best chance at succeeding in the NFL, the Raiders have to bring at least 2 starting-caliber WRs via free agency and the draft.

Assuming Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant aren’t going to hit the open market, here are the top targets for the Oakland Raiders:

Target 1: Jeremy Maclin

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Maclin bet on himself last year, signing a one-year contract with the Eagles in hopes of landing a bigger deal in 2015. His gamble paid off as he had a career season in 2014 with 85 catches, 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will likely be the best WR on the market come March.

Pros: Maclin is only 6’0 but has an incredible skill set. He runs great routes, can go over the middle, can stretch the field and seems to benefit from blown coverages more than any receiver not named T.Y. Hilton. Pat Shurmur, his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, is rumored to be one of the front runners for the head coaching job in Oakland and knows how to get the most out of Maclin. Another HC candidate is Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Hamilton’s deep ball offense plays to Maclin’s strengths

Cons: Maclin has a history of injury problems. He tore his ACL before the 2013 season, causing him to miss the entire year. He also has a problem staying healthy week-to-week, having missed games in every season he’s been in the league except 2010.

Contract: 5 years, $50 million, $24 million guaranteed.

Target 2: Randall Cobb

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Rarely does a player of Cobb’s age and skill hit the open market, but it is likely going to happen with the Packer’s wideout. Green Bay rarely over-pays in free agency and Cobb seems poised to break the bank come March. Cobb, like Maclin, had a career season in his contract year, snatching 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Pros: Cobb is the perfect WR to help Derek Carr develop. He runs great routes, is great in the slot, has great hands and is only 24 years old. Cobb also is one of the leagues best wide receivers in the open field. He has great vision and can often find a hole in the defense when the quarterback is scrambling.

Cons: Cobb, at 5’10 is very short for a WR. There is also a possibility that his career will tank once he doesn’t have one of the best QBs of all time throwing to him.

Contract: 5 years, $48 million, $22 million guaranteed.

Target 3: Torrey Smith

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Smith entered the league 4 years ago with a boom. Paired with Joe Flacco, Smith became one of the best deep ball threats in the game. In his 4 years in the league, Smith has averaged a ridiculous 16.7 yards per catch. He is coming off a down year with only 49 catches, 767 yards and no 100 yard games. Smith did become more effective in the redzone however, catching a career best 11 touchdowns.

Pros: Smith can take the top off the defense, which is a skill that stats can’t quantify. The Raiders did not have anything close to a deep threat last year and that allowed defenses to load the box and play risky. Smith is adept at creating hidden yardage with his ability to draw pass interference penalties. Smith drew 11 PI calls last year, almost double any other wide receiver. The durable receiver also hasn’t missed a game in his 4-year career.

Cons: There is a high risk for Torrey Smith to be a bust. He has the tendency to disappear in stretches of games. It is also not known if he will be able to recreate the chemistry he had with Joe Flacco on another team, as Flacco is the one of the best deep ball QBs in the league.

Contract: 4 years, $32 million, $14 million guaranteed.

The Oakland Raiders Free Agency Wish List: Re-signings

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This is the year that Reggie McKenzie has been waiting for. It didn’t look like he’d make it to this point. His strategy of signing veterans to small, cap-friendly, year-to-year contracts almost got him fired, but his savvy drafting this past may kept him alive.There are no contracts from the Al Davis era holding down the Raiders. And now it’s time to spend that money.

The Raiders will have $60 million to work with this offseason. That number could easily grow to $75 million by cutting the dead weight of Matt Schaub, Lamarr Woodley and Maurice Jones-Drew. With a potential franchise QB behind center, the Raiders are in a great position to make a run at the most coveted free agents in a class loaded with young talent.

But before the free agency madness can begin, the Raiders need to take care of a couple of in-house contracts that are expiring. The Raiders have 11 unrestricted free agents but only really need to re-sign two players.

C- Stefan Wisniewski

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Priority #1: The legacy Raider isn’t on the same level as Alex Mack or Ryan Kalil, but he is definitely an above average center. He anchored a line that ranked 3rd in pass protection according to Football Outsiders, but was 28th in run blocking. Wisniewski was also plagued by a couple of botched QB-Center exchanges, but that should be cleared up with more familiarity between Carr and himself.

Pros: Wisniewski is a young, reliable center that shouldn’t cost the Raiders a lot of money to keep. At only 25, Wisniewski has a lot of room to improve his game and form chemistry with Carr. Along with LG Gabe Jackson and RG Austin Howard (23 and 27 respectively) this young interior line can grow into something special.

Cons: Stefan hasn’t shown much improvement after a solid rookie year. Reggie McKenzie has shown that he is going to do things his own way, especially when it comes to the offensive line. Stefan Wisniewski is one of the few Al Davis draft picks left on the roster and may be headed the way of Jared Veldheer.

Projected contract: 4 years, $22 million. $8 Million guaranteed.

FS- Charles Woodson

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Pros: Charles Woodson is 38 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by watching last year’s tape. The Raiders legend was flying around the field and looking like the best player on a defense that had rookie of the year candidate Khalil Mack. He led the raiders with 4 interceptions and 81 tackles in addition to being the team’s leader and fan favorite. Next year will surely be Woodson’s last, but having him one more year will give McKenzie more time to find a long term answer at FS.

Cons: What could go wrong with signing a 38 year old? There is obviously a risk with his body breaking down. He also isn’t getting any faster. In a game of inches, losing a step can make all the difference.

Projected contract: 1 year, $3.2 million.

Other possible re-signings:

CB- Tarell Brown

Brown signed a “show me” one-year deal in Oakland last year and didn’t perform.  There is not much depth at cornerback on the Raiders, so he could be back on another one year contract.

RB- Darren McFadden

Maurice Jones-Drew is going to be cut and the Raiders will need some sort of depth behind Demarco Murray. McFadden won’t have many suitors if he hits free agency, so his best bet might be to re-sign with Oakland.