Raiders won’t lose again this season

In early August, we did some prognosticating about the 2015 Oakland Raiders season.

We’re now going to take a look at the picks and talk about what happened.

Week 1 vs Bengals

What we said: Raiders win, 24-17

“Oakland has some distinct advantages here, but a definite defensive advantage. Crabtree gives an advantage with wide receivers as well, and it could be a draw as far as the run game.”

What actually happened: Raiders lose, 33-13

The Raiders woke up the following Monday a little uneasy after dreaming about tight ends on every corner. Oakland’s inability to cover the position with the personnel group they employed was ever-present. And it killed them.

Week 2 vs Ravens

What we said: Ravens win, 17-10

“This will be a huge challenge for Oakland. Much of it depends on the ground game for either team. CJ Mosley will hamper the Raiders’ rushing attack, and Oakland might not have enough answers for Baltimore’s ground game.”

What actually happened: Raiders win, 37-33

Oakland was once again haunted by tight ends, but won the turnover battle and the game. It was jab for jab, and the Raiders made it happen during the final moments of the 12th round.

Week 3 at Browns

What we said: Raiders win, 21-10

“The Browns, despite a reasonable draft, do not have enough offense to be taken seriously. They don’t know who their quarterback will be, and none of the options appear to have much upside.”

What actually happened: Raiders win, 27-20

In a somewhat surprising game, the Raiders absolutely dominated the ground game and it was still a tight one. Oakland was up 20-10 when the fourth quarter began, but Cleveland mustered 10 points during that quarter. It could have been very ugly.

Week 4 at Bears

What we said: Raiders win, 31-10

“Chicago’s defense is improved, but not by enough. And their offense isn’t really better than in years prior. Matt Forte might actually fall off the running back cliff this season. It almost always comes down to the ground game.”

What actually happened: Raiders lose, 22-20

With only a few ticks left, Chicago’s Robbie Gould hit a 49-yarder straight through the yellow bars with enough to make you wonder if it could have gone 69 yards.

Bears receiver Marques Wilson helped set it all up with two receptions for 15 yards, not to mention a 12 yard grab from Eddie Royal, all while quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t expected to play at all that day with a sore hamstring.

So brutal.

Week 5 vs Broncos

What we said: Broncos win, 35-14

“The Raiders got better, but not by enough to knock Denver out of the top spot. No way, not that much better.”

What actually happened: Raiders lose, 16-10

Another brutal loss. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski misses two field goals which ultimately helped decide the game. If he nails them both, it’s a good bet the Raiders win this one.

Looking at what happened

The Raiders are about as good as I believed during training camp. Injuries to key positions led to significant drop offs — right tackle Menelik Watson and safety Nate Allen — not to mention a pair of trades that were more than a surprise, with linebacker Sio Moore and receiver Brice Butler.

After the last two seasons, I may have been a bit overzealous in predicting blowouts. Aside from the loss to Cincinnati during Week 1, every game has been decided by seven points or fewer.

Two of those, both losses, were decided by the kicker, though on one count there is mild disagreement. Robbie Gould hit a long kick at the end of Oakland’s second loss of the year in a game where plenty of things went wrong.

In the Raiders’ loss to Denver, Janikowski missed two field goals, six points being the total margin of loss, and about 60 total yards in field position.

Two of the Raiders three losses are against undefeated teams. The other, at Chicago, was just sloppy football and likely a situation where game plans were skewed because Jay Cutler started at quarterback instead of the expected Jimmy Clausen.

Now lets take a look at the rest of the predictions, along with some updated information.

Week 7 at Chargers

Original Prediction: Chargers win, 28-21

“Oakland hung tough with San Diego both times the two teams met in 2014, and the Raiders should be able to keep it close again. San Diego lost a few key free agents during the offseason, and the Raiders will take full advantage, but they also added some talent in key areas.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 31-28

This is a tough one. I want to stick to my guns, San Diego’s offense is on fire and only getting better, which Oakland’s secondary has been a little less than the relatively low expectations.

They’ve made some improvements. They’re finding ways to cover tight ends a little better, and the pass rush is heating up. It’s only a matter of time before holding calls start popping up and Oakland bookends begin getting to the quarterback.

The Chargers’ 26th ranked defense in points allowed is not an aberration. They aren’t very good. The Raiders, though, rank 19th.

I often point to the ground game. Marty-ball, what former Chargers head coach Marty Mornhingweg was so big on. San Diego ranks 29th in run defense, Oakland ranks 3rd.

This is why I alter my stance. If the Raiders run well, there’s no reason they should lose. Period.

Week 8 vs Jets

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 17-3

“The Jets and their lack of offense will not be enough. Sure, they added some pieces, but we’re talking about the Jets still. New York also ranked 24th in points allowed in 2014.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 20-10

The Jets are 4-1, and have averaged nearly 26 points per game. They also rank as the league’s best total defense. The offensive numbers are deceiving, though, here’s who they’ve played through the first six weeks: Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami and Washington.

None of these teams are very good on defense, though the Eagles have shown the makings of something near elite.

The Jets lost that one.

I believe the brave arm of Derek Carr will trump the coverages of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, and the Raiders have the option of twin tight end sets to expose New York’s lack of coverage linebackers.

The Raiders offensive line, one of the best in football, if not the best, will give Carr a lot more than Andrew Luck‘s line gave, and that will be the difference.

Week 9 at Steelers

Original Prediction: Steelers win, 14-13

“This will be an interesting game, depending on the relative health of important players. Antonio Brown and Amari Cooper are similar players athletically, but Cooper is not on Brown’s level. The only game of the season for Oakland that will be decided through the air.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 24-6

A large part of this call hinges on whether Ben Roethlisberger plays, and that’s a toss up. Pittsburgh beat San Diego and Arizona without Roethlisberger, though every little thing went their way.

More importantly, Arizona was able to shut down Antonio Brown, and the gut feeling is that the Raiders can do that as well, along with Le’Veon Bell.

Oakland has faced some excellent running backs, and remains the third best rush defense in the league. They’ve also fared well against the number one receivers of all teams they faced.

Week vs Vikings

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 21-17

“I like Minnesota’s offseason, but question how quickly Bridgewater and Wallace can acquaint themselves. Wallace scored 10 touchdowns last year, but his first in Miami only held six scores. Whether Peterson can continue after a year off is also questionable.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 20-13

As noted in the initial call, Mike Wallace was hoped to be a key player in the Vikings’ offense. He’s done little to nothing to date, but that doesn’t mean he won’t come alive soon.

Peterson has been relatively absent as well, and as a result, Minnesota currently ranks 31st in total offense.

Week 11 at Lions

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 31-13

“The Lions just aren’t good down the stretch, regardless of the roster or coaches. Why, you ask? Because they’re the Lions. Beyond that, the Raiders win nearly every individual matchup here.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 31-10

I slightly increase Oakland’s margin of victory because the Lions are a complete mess. The roster is still talented, but damn. Anyone who said they believed Matt Stafford would be momentarily benched is a liar.

Calvin Johnson is now 30 years old, and their prized rookie running back Ameer Abdullah keeps putting the ball on the ground.

The Raiders should stomp Detroit in this one.

Week 12 at Titans

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 24-13

“Tennessee picked two spots higher than Oakland, but their improvements aren’t close to what the Raiders have. They still have a bad offense, and their defense isn’t a whole lot better.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 24-10

Tennessee currently ranks 3rd in yards allowed per game, but 20th in points allowed. And they’ve played the worst Jameis Winston led Tampa Bay team ever seen, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Miami.

The Titans’ defense is not close to good, and though they rank well now, it’s not something that will stand. Their offense isn’t good, either, and Oakland once again rolls over the weak.

Week 13 vs Chiefs

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 28-10

“Oakland will be able to pound away at Kansas City’s line, and stomp their run game. I think this one doesn’t come to the wire like last season’s win over the Chiefs.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 28-10

Holding firm on my original prediction, Oakland stops the Kansas City offense in what they do best, and the Raiders win big with their up and coming offense.

But get this, my initial prediction had this to say:

“Raiders’ Key Matchup: RB Jamaal Charles vs LB Sio Moore — The last time the Chiefs played in Oakland, Moore gained national attention after he celebrated a third down sack a little long. This year, he’ll likely have several chances to tackle Charles for a loss as the Chiefs run sweep plays to avoid Oakland’s defensive interior. Moore will need to stay on his toes.”

The number of known commodities that have changed teams, retired, or fallen to injury this year is staggering.

Week 14 at Broncos

Original Prediction: Broncos win, 21-17

“This one might be a closer prediction, but the result is the same.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 16-10

No way the Raiders make the same mistakes, no way Janikowski misses two more, and no way it happens at Mile High. More important, the Denver offense has been deplorable, and no way it gets much better.

The Oakland offense, though, will only improve as the season goes on. Tight end Clive Walford should become more relevant, and the running game should also improve.

Week 15 vs Packers

Original Prediction: Packers win, 24-21

“While Green Bay is a team that seems to never lose until January, they lose often without Aaron Rodgers. And he’s usually pretty dinged up in December. He’s the piece of the puzzle that might not be there, and if not, the Raiders win. But if he’s healthy, Oakland has no answer.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 24-21

Green Bay has struggled in two wins against teams that are familiar here, Chicago and San Diego. The Pack won by eight in Chicago and seven at home against the Chargers.

That matters because the Raiders are a better team than both, it’s recently being reported that Packers receivers are playing hurt, which will only get worse if it keeps up.

As one who has covered the Raiders through two awful seasons, I believe this team is capable of beating Aaron Rodgers. Finally.

Week 16 vs Chargers

Original Prediction: Raiders win, 13-3

“Short week favors the younger team in many cases, though it’s not exact science. The Raiders nearly sweep the Chargers with youth, but not only that. They have become the better team.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win, 13-10

Short week almost always favors the home team. And, as I previously predicted, the Raiders have the better squad.

Week 17 at Chiefs

Original Prediction: Chiefs win 17-13

“This one is at Arrowhead, but there’s a nagging in my prefrontal cortex that is telling me Jeremy Maclin will be injured.

But this is based on the total presumption of health, especially because injuries are difficult to predict, so the Chiefs get one over here. By this point, a healthy Maclin should have a rhythm with Smith that is hard to beat.

And the Raiders won’t beat it.”

Updated Prediction: Raiders win 17-13

So by this sheet, the Raiders win every game from their bye week to the end of the regular season. This could be one that they drop. But the Raiders do it in style this time, if they do.

Final result

Original Prediction: Raiders go 9-7. Not a bad turnaround. Especially for a team that has won 11 of their last 48 games.

Updated Prediction: Raiders go 13-3, winning 11 straight and doing it with style. Most are close games, but they clean up all the little things—- the Latavius Murray bobble for a big interception, missed field goals, and all the things that have led to losses that shouldn’t have happened.

I thought the Raiders would be a very good team during camp. They’re a better team than I thought they would be, and even as personnel losses mount, they keep in games that I didn’t think they would be able to.

Oakland is also far better late in games, their new conditioning staff has the players better prepared than other teams.

I believe a trade, an upgrade at right tackle or an addition at cornerback would put the Raiders over the top. Cleveland right tackle Mitchel Schwartz is a name I believe needs watching.

He’s in a contract year, is playing very well, and I don’t think he’ll resign with Cleveland in the offseason. It’s a win for both teams, and the Raiders have the capital to make it work out.

Though I mention an upgrade at corner, I don’t see any automatic upgrades that are going to be moved.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.