Full 2015 schedule here, with links for tickets.
I tend to be one of those fans that automatically thinks 16-0 soon as the schedule comes out. Every game looks winnable, somehow. Then I start thinking “win at home, win the division,” which means 11-5 at least. Then reality sets in at some point, usually by the first preseason game.
But I do think Oakland had a better free agency period this year than last year; they had a very good draft last year and should continue in that direction. The new coaching regime should be an improvement worth at least 2-3 games, maybe more, and the rest of the AFC West has not improved, and may be declining, as San Diego and Denver face what will probably be their final seasons with their respective quarterbacks.
The first two games will be tough; Hue Jackson will have something to prove in the season opener, and the Ravens always have that nasty defense. But the next two may be the real test of how much the Raiders have progressed from last season. After going winless on the road last year, can they reverse that trend against two lousy, rebuilding teams (Cleveland and Chicago) with major issues of their own?
Later road games in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Tennessee will be more challenging — those venues are difficult for elite teams. But the Steelers and Titans each have significant weaknesses and personnel losses, and so those should be competitive games at least, and the Raiders may pick up one or two of those three road trips.
The Jets and Vikings are not very good teams, but tend to punch above their weight. Again, part of getting Oakland back to a place that other teams dread having to visit means taking bad teams down and beating the hell out of them. The Raiders haven’t really smacked anyone down since the 59-14 blowout in Denver back in 2010. But last season’s Niners game showed some signs of that beatdown spirit. At the beginning of the season that game looked to be a sure thing, an ugly defeat for the Raiders. But San Francisco was reeling by the time they staggered into Oakland, fighting for playoff relevance, sandwiched between two games against their arch-rival Seahawks.
The point is, it was that game where you saw the Raiders sense weakness in an opponent, and really start capitalizing on it. The 24-13 final score could easily have had another Oakland touchdown tacked onto it in the final minutes of the game, but coach Tony Sparano decided to show mercy and let it go.
I get the feeling that Jack Del Rio is not going to have that same mercy on opponents. I think we’re all counting on that for the two Denver games; Peyton Manning has completely owned and abused the Raiders since he landed in Denver, and it’s long past time for some payback. I think poaching Rodney Hudson from the Chefs is worth at least one of the two games against Kansas City, and the Chargers just don’t seem the same, the rumors of Philip Rivers heading to Tennessee, either this season or next, is bound to affect a team that hasn’t really done much to upgrade itself in the off-season.
And let’s not forget Green Bay, a team that is sorely in need of a good solid ass-kicking. It’s been more than a quarter of a century since the Raiders have defeated the Packers, and the last three defeats have been by an average of 32 points.
The most recent embarrassment, in December 2011, is a great example of why the Raiders should look at a usually meaningless inter-conference matchup as a true statement game. Oakland headed into that game with a 7-5 record, legitimately thinking playoff contention, but also on the heels of a 20-point defeat in Miami.
The question was which Oakland team would show up in Green Bay. Carson Palmer answered by throwing four picks, leading to a 31-0 halftime deficit, by which point the Raiders had already given up.
What annoyed me about that particular game was a point where, leading 31-0 late in the second quarter, Rodgers fumbled and had it returned for a touchdown. So naturally, Rodgers and Mike McCarthy immediately started crying — whining, really, when you get down to it — for the Tuck Rule, believe it or not. And of course, because the refs love Rodgers the way they love Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, they gave it to them and penalized Oakland for clipping.
It was at that point that, since Ben Davidson was not going to rise from the dead and jump the line to snap Rodgers like a twig and take the ejection and fine, like in the good old days, I instead simply lost all respect for Rodgers and his team. Their recent troubles against the Seahawks are simply football karma coming home for them, and we will all say a little voodoo to the football gods when the time comes that Tuck Rule Junior walks into a buzzsaw on December 20. As with the Donkeys, I am not kidding even a little bit when I say 77-0 would not be enough of a beatdown, let’s just hope that all the upgrades are working by then, and the Raiders go full Tecmo Bowl on Green Bay.
But realistically? Again, they’re all winnable in theory, but more likely they wind up around 8-8, maybe as much as 10-6. It all depends on three things, two of which the Raiders can control: improved running game; improved defense; and how much the division rivals are actually on the decline.