Oakland Raiders 2018 Stats Review:
Pythagorean Wins: 3.7
ATS: 6-10; average line 6.0
Over/Under: 6-9-1; average total 47.6
Close Games Record: 3-3
Turnover Differential: -0.4
Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 81.7 (19th)
Offense: 25th in EPA per play (-0.041); 5.52 yards per play
Defense: 32nd in EPA per play (+0.165); 6.44 yards per play
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The Bad and the Ugly
The only reason the Oakland Raiders didn’t hold the first overall pick in the 2019 draft was their head-to-head win against the Arizona Cardinals. When studying a 4-12 team, we would usually find substantial positive regression factors, as we did with the Jets. But not so much with the 2018 Raiders. They were just atrocious and didn’t underperform by a lot against the second-hardest schedule (.547). Their Pythagorean win expectation of 3.7 was the second-lowest number in the league, and they had a record of 3-3 in close games. Their injury luck was slightly below average, and their turnover margin of -0.4 was not extraordinarily bad.
Winning four games or less in consecutive seasons is as hard as winning twelve or more. Based on that fact alone, the Raiders should somehow improve. But there aren’t a lot of indicators pointing towards a massive improvement. Their historically weak defense should improve, but the room for improvement is limited due to their schedule (we will get to that).
They also ranked 25th in offensive EPA per play and offense is more sticky from year to year than defense – especially when the quarterback remains the same. As much as he tries to be that guy on Hard Knocks, Derek Carr isn’t a competent signal-caller. He isn’t even average. He had one good season in a great environment, that’s it. In what was supposed to be a friendlier environment for the quarterback, Derek Carr finished 27th in QBR out of 33 qualifying players.
Except for some more defensive contribution, the Raiders can’t count on lousy luck to shift to their side.
The Former Incredible Offensive Line is Incognito
I didn’t think the Raiders offensive design was terrible last year. But if you don’t have a quarterback who can execute your offense and preferably checks it down to avoid a sack, you are in trouble. Carr had his best season when the offensive line was the best in the league, and he could throw from clean platforms. As soon as he feels pressure, he gets frantic.
In my 2018 Raiders preview, I criticized the hiring of offensive line coach Tom Cable who his hands down the worst position coach in the NFL based on his track records. Cable left the Seahawks, and suddenly they had solid line play. Cable came to Oakland, and suddenly a top-five unit turned into a below-average group. Kolton Miller was a disaster as a rookie, giving up 16 sacks himself, according to Pro Football Focus. He never was an excellent prospect coming out of college.
Miller will start at left tackle, and Oakland shouldn’t be optimistic about a massive improvement, especially not under Cable. The Raiders made Trent Brown the highest-paid tackle, but he was only the 59th-graded tackle out of 85 by PFF. Their most significant reasoning was that he benefited a lot from Tom Brady and a quick passing game and didn’t play well on a per-play basis.
In a shocking move, the Oakland Raiders traded away left guard Kelechi Osemele, one of the league’s best at his position until he played under Cable. His replacement is Richie Incognito, a former Pro Bowler who will miss the first two weeks of 2019 due to a suspension. Right, guard Gabe Jackson will miss at least half of the season due to injury. Center Rodney Hudson will probably be the lone quality starter in week one. For a quarterback who gets frantic and seeks his check-down with the slightest sign of pressure, this is a nightmare setup.
Trading for wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is coming off his least efficient season, was one of the biggest storylines during the off-season, but it’s uncertain whether he is going to be a full go for the Raiders. Brown dealt with a foot issue and left training camp because he is not allowed to play with his standard helmet. He only practiced with the team twice thus far. And he also goes from Ben Roethlisberger to Derek Carr.
Without Brown, that would leave the Raiders with speedsters JJ Nelson, Tyrell Williams, and rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. You could dream of a better wide receiving depth chart. Oakland also needs to replace 101 targets, 68 receptions, 896 yards, and six touchdowns from tight end Jared Cook. The 6’2″ Darren Waller, who had a good camp, is the frontrunner for the job. However, Waller has 18 receptions through his four-year NFL career.
Without Antonio Brown, this offense looks worse on paper than its 2018 version. With him, I doubt that they are vastly improved.
The scheme of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther relies on creating pressure with four rushers while playing disciplined coverage on the backend. That wasn’t a good recipe in 2018. The Raiders rushed with four guys almost 75 percent of the time but ranked dead-last in creating pressure. With such a bad pass rush, it could have been a smart idea to call more blitzes to create pressure via the scheme. But Guenther refused it – the Raiders had the fourth-lowest blitz rate. And they got shredded.
The only additions to the worst defensive line in 2018 are rookie defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. Guenther is hoping to get a second-year leap out of defensive tackles PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst. The defense looks improved at linebacker where Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall are joining Tahir Whitehead in 4-3 base sets. Veteran experience and communication ability will always help, but Burfict and Marshall aren’t blessed with great athleticism or coverage ability at this stage of their respective careers.
The secondary is filled with question marks. On paper, the Raiders improved their middle-of-the-field-coverage with Lamarcus Joyner and added mad-tackling rookie Johnathan Abraham for the box. But their cornerback group remains a problem. Their highest-graded cornerback – Gareon Conley – ranked 76th among 125 qualifying cornerbacks. Daryl Worley (112th), Nevin Lawson (108th) and Nick Nelson (124th) don’t keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night, either. I see this defense slightly improved due to the linebackers and the Joyner addition, but the pass rush remains a work in progress, and the cornerbacks should once again be overmatched against a tight schedule.
Now it’s getting hideous for Jon Gruden and his team. We would expect the strength of their plan to regress, but it’s not getting more comfortable. According to current Pinnacle win totals, the Oakland Raiders are projected to play the third-toughest schedule at .5224. Using 2018 EPA per offensive play numbers, their program projects to be the 7th-hardest. It makes sense when looking at their program. Playing four games against the Chiefs and Bolts does a lot. Teams like the Vikings, Jets, Lions, and Packers will likely feature improved passing attacks. We should also expect a guy like Broncos coach Vic Fangio to get the best out of Carr.
But it gets even uglier. At 32,000, the Raiders will travel the most miles of all teams. As a team from the Pacific time zone, they are going to play six road games at 1 PM ET plus a London game. From weeks three to eight, the Raiders will play five straight games outside of California. The NFL scheduling committee crushed the Raiders.
Oakland Raiders 2019: Better Prepare for Vegas
I think the Jets and the Raiders make up for a very cool comparison. Both teams won four matchups last year, but enter the 2019 season under entirely different circumstances. The Jets have a quarterback who enters year two and has a lot of upside in an improved environment whereas Derek Carr has no hidden potential left. The Jets also have a lot of positive regression going for them like a better record in close games. The third argument is the schedule. Gang Green is expected to face one of the most relaxed programs in the league, whereas Oakland will deal with one of the hardest.
I can hardly see the Raiders win more than six games and I would go with seven wins as their absolute ceiling if they land on the positive side of variance. The Raiders look like a 5-11 to 6-10 team on paper, and I would lean towards the under on their win total of 6. But the timing for the best market entry is already gone as markets have bet this total down from 6.2 to as low as 5.8 now. Maybe the over gets some money entering the market with more positive Antonio Brown news the upcoming days. At a better price, I would consider a play on the under.
However, the Raiders shouldn’t do anything this year. Oakland’s goal should be to get ready for Las Vegas in 2020. Maybe they will also think about a new quarterback.