The Update: Oakland Raiders 2017 Preview

The Update: Kansas City Chiefs 2017 Preview
July 18, 2017
The Update: San Francisco 49ers 2017 Preview
July 21, 2017

The Update: Oakland Raiders 2017 Preview

Justis Mosqueda
In an effort to break the two-paragraph preview trend of national writers, Setting the Edge has dedicated themselves to previewing all 32 teams in the NFL in a series called “The Update”, which will focus on:

  1. Where a team stands from a decision-maker standpoint
  2. Where teams were efficient and inefficient last year by using percentile radar charts
  3. Who the moving parts between the 2016 and 2017 seasons were
  4. Where a team is trending heading into the 2017 regular season

Justis Mosqueda will be writing the team previews while Charles McDonald posts film breakdowns based on the writing. After posts on entire divisions are finished, they will discuss teams on division-specific Setting the Edge podcasts which you can find on SoundCloud and iTunes. Five stars only. Tell a friend.

Oakland Raiders fans have been through a lot. For the first time since 2002, when their rookies were still in the single digits, the team recorded a winning record in 2016. Their starting quarterback Derek Carr just signed a five-year, $125 million deal, which started a conversation surrounding his production versus his perceived talent level.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a trend that those Raiders fans should actually worry about, if they expect their team to make the playoffs in 2017. Close games have proven to be coin flips, a 50-50 game. When teams rack up a stretch of close victories, it’s a virtual lock that they’ll regress in record the next season. This is from our Miami Dolphins preview:

These are the teams that won more than two games over .500 in close games from 2006 through 2015 (sans the outlier Colts seasons):

  • 2015 Denver Broncos (9-3 in close games, 12-4 record to 9-7 in 2016)
  • 2015 Carolina Panthers (6-1 in close games, 15-1 record to 8-8 in 2016)
  • 2014 Green Bay Packers (5-0 in close games, 12-4 record to 10-6 in 2015)
  • 2014 Detroit Lions (6-1 in close games, 11-5 record to 7-9 in 2015)
  • 2012 Houston Texans (5-0 in close games, 12-4 record to 2-14 in 2013)
  • 2012 Atlanta Falcons (7-2 in close games, 13-3 record to 4-12 in 2013)
  • 2011 Oakland Raiders (7-2 in close games, 8-8 record to 4-12 in 2012)
  • 2010 Atlanta Falcons (7-2 in close games, 13-3 record to 10-6 in 2011)
  • 2009 San Diego Chargers (6-1 in close games, 13-3 record to 9-7 in 2010)
  • 2009 Indianapolis Colts (7-0 in close games, 14-2 record to 10-6 in 2010)
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (7-2 in close games, 11-5 record to 7-9 in 2009)

The range for regression is 2 to 10 more losses after a “lucky” season. The mean is 5 more losses the next season. The median is 4 more losses the next season. If you exclude those three Colts seasons, 317 of 317 seasons from 2006 through 2015 have either proven that teams can’t substantially win close games in a single season or that if they do it in fact hurts them the next year.

In nine single-score games last year, the Oakland Raiders went 8-1, 3.5 games above the projected .500 record. That’s the first time a non-Indianapolis Colts team has done that since at least 2006. That means that in the 341 non-Colts seasons in the NFL from 2006 to 2016, the 2016 Raiders were the “luckiest” team, the one with the most inflated record relative to on-field performance.

Your first reaction might be to resist this information. No one wants to know when they’ll die before it happens, and the numbers claim Oakland is done before the season even starts. The start of this grief period will likely begin by questioning the numbers.

“The numbers say that lucky teams have a worse record the next year, but do the numbers say that unlucky teams have a better record the next year?”

Yes! From 2006 to 2015, only 15 teams lost more than two games under their .500 projection in single-score games. All 15 of them improved in record the next season.

For those keeping track at home, that means that 25 of 25 non-Colts teams with an outlier season, in terms of close games, had a predictable trend in where their record was going to head the next season. 25 of 25, when the three options of 1) having a better record, 2) having the same record and 3) having a worse record are on the table, is a pretty amazing statistic.

Let’s exclude the idea of having the same record. If we had to call if a team was going to have a better or worse record the next year, it would be similar to calling the right side of a coin flip correctly. This process hit 25 of 25. According to Wolfram Alpha, the odds of calling heads and getting heads is a 1 in 33.55 million chance. This is all to say, if you think that these numbers are luck based, then we’re going through something historic.

“Well what about the Colts? Why can’t we be the Colts?”

Do you see that highest sitting dot? That’s the Indianapolis Colts from 2006 to 2016. Every other NFL is about equal in terms of how they perform in close games, and the Colts are the only exception. This isn’t just a Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck thing. I don’t think anyone would make the case that the Colts’ 2006-2016 run of quarterbacks is better than say the New England Patriots under Tom Brady or the Green Bay Packers under Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. To be totally honest, nothing makes sense to me here, unless the team is gaining some sort of edge, legal or illegal.

With some of the recent news, I don’t think the latter should be ruled out.

On paper, the Raiders are a lock to regress in 2016. The numbers say they will probably fall to 8-8 or 7-9, which in the AFC West, means you’re not making the playoffs. This comes a year after the team’s first winning record in almost a decade and a half, and it immediately followed a $125 million extension for their franchise quarterback. I’m so sorry.

Offense:

Backs: Carr is “the guy” in Oakland now. What Raiders fans don’t want to hear right now is that their young quarterbacks is overrated. He’s mobile and has plenty of arm strength, I think everyone is aware of that. That’s besides the point though. How the passing offense functions under him is more important that what his perceived upside is. He’s heading into Year 4, and the team already invested in his future. One would think that what he’s doing right now is what the team is going to ask him to do down the line.

Last year, the Raiders’ passing offense finished 3rd in interception percentage, 10th in completion percentage and 19th in yards per completion, all while recording the best sack percentage in the league. When you compare Oakland’s passing efficiency to the Kansas City Chiefs, their division rival that packaged picks to trade up in the first round for Patrick Mahomes, Carr isn’t too different, at least statistically, from the Alex Smith group of passers.

At running back, the team had three significant ball-carriers last year in Latavius Murray (195 attempts, 4.0 yards per attempt), DeAndre Washington (87 attempts, 5.4 yards per attempt) and Jalen Richard (83 attempts, 5.9 yards per attempt). Washington and Richard return, but Murray left Oakland to sign a three-year, $15 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.

Mostly because of Murray’s volume of carries, the Raiders’ backfield undershot their offensive line’s run blocking efficiency last season. In 2016, Oakland was 4th in TFL percentage, 10th in yards per carry, 14th in run percentage and 23rd in fumble percentage. Even though they were 12-4, only losing three games by multiple scores, the team didn’t turn to the ground game as often as one would assume. The addition of Marshawn Lynch could mean that they found their bell cow to ride, but the now 31-year-old hasn’t played a live football game in about 20 months, which isn’t the most solid ground to build an argument on.

Pass-Catchers: Andre Holmes signed a three-year, $5.15 million deal with the Buffalo Bills, but the Raiders return their three most-played receivers from 2016. Michael Crabtree (89 receptions, 11.3 yards per reception), Amari Cooper (83 receptions, 13.9 yards per reception) and Seth Roberts (38 receptions, 10.4 yards per reception) should be the names that ring a bell heading into the 2017 season. The team also signed former first-round speedster Cordarrelle Patterson on a two-year, $8.5 million deal.

The team has two options in three-receiver looks with the guys they have on their depth chart. First, they could simply play Roberts in the slot, between Cooper and Crabtree, which would keep Patterson on the bench as a reserve player. Second, they could bring Patterson off the bench as an outside receiver, which would kick either Cooper or Crabtree into the slot, which would keep Roberts on the bench as a reserve player. That’s the biggest question about the offense that I have heading into the preseason.

At tight end, Mychal Rivera left on a low-level contract to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, meaning that Clive Walford (33 receptions, 10.9 yards per reception) is the only significant returning tight end. Jared Cook, who despite his history of dropped passes, was effective for the Green Bay Packers last season. That earned him a two-year, $10.6 million deal, which should earn him the starting job in Oakland.

Linemen: Offensive line play is not close to being an issue for this team. They were first in sack percentage and fourth in TFL percentage last season. They also return their five starters in Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele and Austin Howard, while also spending a fourth-round pick on Florida’s David Sharpe, a tackle project.

The team their swing tackle in Menelik Watson, but a second-round pick turned swing tackle isn’t exactly who you want back on a second contract. His three-year, $18.38 million deal with the Denver Broncos is still surprising.

Defense:

Line of Scrimmage: The Oakland Raiders have one of the more multiple defenses in the NFL. On any given play, Bruce Irvin, a former 4-3 defensive end and 4-3 outside linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, could either be considered a pass-rusher or an off the ball linebacker. With that in mind, we’ll try to group up players as best as we can.

Last season, the Raiders played four true defensive lineman over 20 percent of their defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders. Those players were Dan Williams, Justin Ellis, Darius Latham and Stacy McGee. Williams is still a free agent, while McGee signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Washington Redskins this offseason. That means that in 3-4 looks, the team doesn’t even have a veteran presence on the first line of the depth chart.

The drafting of UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, who is probably best known for his recruitment, and Toledo’s Trevyon Hester, who is probably best known for his highlighted name on Ourlads, should help the team, in terms of depth. Still, on a team that finished 4th in fumble percentage, 23rd in run percentage, 25th in yards per carry and 25th in TFL percentage, the run defense needed to improve significantly. This will be a weak unit on the team for 16 games.

On the edge, there’s Khalil Mack, who may be one of the league’s top three pass-rushers, but that didn’t stop the team from finishing 32nd in sack percentage last year. After Mack, Denico Autry, Jihad Ward and Mario Edwards Jr. are the significant pass-rushers on the team. The three of them combine for 7.5 career sacks. Now you realize why Irvin sees some on the ball time.

Backs: If you count Irvin as an off the ball linebacker, he, Perry Riley and Cory James were the only linebackers who saw any significant playing time last season. Riley is currently a free agent, meaning that Irvin, a hybrid player, and James are the only veteran presences in the unit. The hope is that Maquel Lee, the team’s rookie fifth-round pick, or Ben Heeney, a 2015 fifth-round pick, step up to the play this season.

In the secondary, the team returns cornerbacks David Amerson, Sean Smith and Travis Carrie, while Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph return as starting safeties. Losing cornerback D.J. Hayden shouldn’t hurt as much as adding cornerback Gareon Conley, the team’s first-round pick, and safety Obi Menlifonwu, the team’s second-round pick, should help, even as rookies. Still, the unit was 6th in interception percentage, 11th in completion percentage and 32nd in yards per completion last year. They will likely live or die again based on the team’s ball-hawking ability.

2017 Prediction: On paper, the Oakland Raiders weren’t a playoff-caliber team last season, and the numbers suggest that they won’t be in 2017. On defense, it’s hard to imagine how the team gets better in the box this year. On offense, they have a great offense line, but playoff hopes hing on an Alex Smith-like passing offense, in terms of efficiency, striking twice to get them in the playoffs in back-to-back years, while leaning on the fact that a 31-year-old running back, who has been out of the league for almost 20 months, is more than fool’s gold.

There’s a lot of compartmentalizing to be done here if you think this team wins the AFC West, one of the more competitive divisions in football, which also has to play the NFC East, another competitive division. According to Odds Shark, Vegas also believes in some level of regression in Oakland.

Think about it this way: The New Orleans Saints have been the face of a lopsided offense-heavy, defense-lacking team over the last three or so years. The Saints have played in more single-score games than any team in the league recently. Staying in a game isn’t enough in the NFL, when single-score games are essentially coin flips. Over the last three years, the Saints have finished 7-9, 7-9 and 7-9. Until we get tangible proof that the Raiders have improved on the defensive side of the ball, we should be projecting them to finish around .500 from this point forward.

Video Breakdown: Prospects of Oakland’s Pass Defense by Charles McDonald