Heading into the 2019 season, expectations are rising for the Oakland Raiders and second-year head coach Jon Gruden. The trades of Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack are behind them, and a fresh batch of reinforcements have arrived via free agency and the draft.
Among the preseason storylines, however, has been Oakland’s schedule — deemed the hardest in the entire league. In fact, the NFL all but apologized to the Raiders after the fact. Apologies aside, the Raiders’ slate gets off to a brutal start in Weeks 1-4…
Week 1: vs. Denver Broncos (Monday)
The only non-Thursday primetime game the Raiders will see all season, as for the second year in a row the Raiders open at home on Monday night in part two of a doubleheader. It’s weird to say this about any game in a 16-game season, but it’s hard to imagine this season being a success without a win here.
Last season, the Raiders beat Denver at home in Week 16 – 27-14 – giving them all the confidence they need to believe they could do it again to open the season. They also lost by just one point in Denver – 20-19 – in a game they probably should have won if not for a tired defense. In a battle between the two teams projected to finish at the bottom of the division, this game should give us some insight into what to expect moving forward. It will also mark the Broncos debut of quarterback Joe Flacco.
Week 2: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Back-to-back divisional games for the Raiders to open the season as they get to stay home again for a visit from the Chiefs. The good news here? If Tyreek Hill is suspended for at least two games, he’ll have to miss this one — meaning the Raiders might have a puncher’s chance.
In two games last season against the Chiefs, the Raiders gave up 75 total points — while scoring just 36 (including a 35-3 Week 17 whooping). Could the possibility of no Hill plus the advantage of a home crowd make this one interesting?
Week 3: at Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are coming off an incredibly disappointing 8-7-1 season last year, but their roster remains one of the most talented in the league. Remember, this is a team that is just one season removed from going 13-3 and advancing all the way to the conference championship game.
This game also marks the beginning of a stretch in which the Raiders won’t see Oakland between Sept. 15 and Nov. 3 (not a typo). Throw in the fact that the only two non-playoff teams they’ll see over that stretch are the Vikings and the Packers and, well, you’ll start to understand how brutal of a schedule this is.
Week 4: at Indianapolis Colts
With Andrew Luck back and healthy, the Colts went 10-6 last season — including a playoff win against the Houston Texans. What made their season even more remarkable is that they started the season 1-5 before winning nine of their final 10 regular season games. Over that stretch, they outscored their opponents by 117 points.
The Raiders did get to see the Colts last season — in the second week of that torrid 10-game-stretch. The Colts won 42-28, but Derek Carr put together one of his best games of the season — going toe-to-toe with Luck to the tune of 244 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Prediction: 1-3 record
I think the Raiders win a lively one in Week 1, but I think the next three are against three of the better teams in the entire league. I’d give them a 35% chance to steal one of the next three — with the Chiefs game probably the most likely, but even with an improved roster, the Raiders are going to be underdogs a lot this season.