After two home games to open the season, the Oakland Raiders then move into a six-week stretch away from Oakland — all games against good teams. While I predicted a slow start to the season, unfortunately, that trend continues as the Raiders close out the first half of the 2019 season…
Week 5: vs. Chicago Bears (London)
Ah the joys of throwing away home games… For the seventeenth year in a row (approximate), the Raiders will play just seven games in Oakland while “hosting” a game abroad. This year, the Chicago Khalil Macks “come to town”.
Once Mack made his way to Chicago, the Bears morphed into one of 2018’s biggest surprises — going 12-4 despite starting Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. On one hand, a lot of their success felt fluky and unsustainable from afar, and yet, their only four losses were by a combined 14 points (including two overtime losses). If you’re looking for optimism, I think there are two places to look: the departure of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (now the head coach of the Denver Broncos) and the presence of Trubisky.
Also keep in mind that the Raiders own Chicago’s first-round pick next season, making this game extra important for Oakland.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: at Green Bay Packers
(Looks at Packer depth chart…) Yep, OK, Aaron Rodgers is still there so, uh, this one’s going to be a tough one.
Even with a new head coach in Matt LaFleur and coming off a 6-9 season, the Packers are never a team you want to play as long as Rodgers is around. The good news for Oakland at least is that October is a good time to visit Wisconsin — especially for California boys. Coming off a bye week (even if it’s a week recovering from a trip to London), the Raiders should be well-prepared for this one, so long as they’re not discouraged from the brutal five-game stretch they’ve already endured.
Week 8: at Houston Texans
Oh look, another 2018 playoff team! If not for Trubisky, the Raiders would have a stretch of seeing Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and then Deshaun Watson back-to-back-to-back. Like the Colts, the Texans turned 2018 around after a disastrous start — going 0-3 to start before rattling off nine straight wins and ending the season 11-5.
One interesting thing to watch in this game should be a battle between two of the lesser units in football — the Houston offensive line and the Oakland defensive line. Coming off a season in which they logged a league-low 13 total sacks (not a typo), the Raiders have invested heavily at that position by using the No. 4 pick in the draft on defensive end Clelin Ferrell.
Week 9: vs. Detroit Lions
Finally, a game that feels like it might be a breather. Then again, it’s yet another one of the league’s better quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford on the other side of the field. The Lions finished in last place in their division in 2018 — head coach Matt Patricia’s first — and had a record of 6-10, so if the Raiders have any will to win left in them then this one is a must-have.
Then again, the last time Oakland beat the Lions was in 1996 — with the Raiders having lost the last four matchups between these two teams. Some guys who played in that 1996 game? Well, Oakland held Barry Sanders to just 36 yards, while Jeff Hoestetler threw for 295 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. James Jett was the team’s leading receiver — catching two touchdowns to go along with 112 receiving yards.
Prediction: 2-2 (3-5 overall on the season)
I’ll get a little optimistic here and give the somewhat depressing “dream scenario”. If Oakland can get out of the first half of the season at 3-5, I’d consider it a minor miracle. After giving the Raiders zero benefit of the doubt in the first stretch, I’ll say they grab a couple wins here — one against the Lions and one against the Bears in a weird London game.