Believe it or not, there are some rational reasons behind a possible playoff run for the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders.
Before diving into why the Raiders will make it to the dance this year, let’s rewind 15 years, back to 2006. That’s when I first began watching the Raiders. That team, in case you’ve forgotten, had the lethal quarterback duo of Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter, the return of a different former head coach in Art Shell, and one of the most abysmal offenses in NFL history, they averaged -wait for it- 10 points a game. Ironically, despite finishing with the worst record in the league, that season was the last time the Raiders had a defense that was respectable, allowing just 20 points a game.
Essentially, fans have been deprived of what good football looks like. They don’t know how it feels to cheer for a team that doesn’t rip your heart out. Even that 2016 squad broke fans, myself included. All because Bill Musgrave didn’t want to call a run while being up 19 points in the fourth quarter.
2021 needs to be when this franchise remembers its roots and delivers some sweet success. Here’s why it’ll happen, broken down into three categories…
Raiders finally have some continuity
For better or worse, Mark Davis has finally established continuity within the Raiders. Jon Gruden, other than himself in his first run, is the first head coach to make it to Year 4. Derek Carr is the longest-tenured quarterback since Ken “Snake” Stabler, of whom he’s passed in both touchdowns and total yards in team history. Even more impressive is that he’s done this while being endlessly criticized. Regardless, the play-caller and quarterback tandem (the most important in football) is firmly in sync for the Raiders.
As for the defense, while new additions and a coaching switch have been made, there still exists the same foundation of guys that management believes in such as Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell, and Nick Kwiatkoski. Constant turnover can stall any chance you have of winning, so kindly proven by the Raiders organization since 2002. With mostly the same faces on the roster in 2021 and some new prettier ones added, Las Vegas should look united for the first time in a while.
A Better Defense
There’s no way of understating how bad this group was last season, so I’ll keep it simple: they were the worst unit in team history. By a lot. And before going on a tangent by listing all the players that were desperately forced onto the field, I’ll bite my tongue. The mere fact is, the defense and its ridiculous gaffes (good riddance, Arden Key) cost the Raiders several wins in 2020; I’d go as far as saying they single-handedly held them back from reaching the postseason.
Thankfully, the vest-wearing goober of a defensive coordinator is out. In his stead, the much more charismatic Gus Bradley is in, and the cupboard has been restocked. On top of that, I’m a big believer that those who have struggled, like former first-rounder Johnathan Abram, will discover themselves in this new, free-flowing system. An average defense (let’s shoot for 18th) coupled with a top-10 offense? Smells like 10+ wins to me.
The return of Raider Nation
Finally, the Raiders will be postseason-bound in 2021 because they’ll have their fans back. Call me crazy, but I truly think the team would have won two or three more games in Allegiant Stadium. They were 2-6 in their new digs, maybe it would’ve been different had fans been in attendance. In particular, the games versus the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers come to mind.
The one positive that came from a season of empty stands was the Raiders learning to win on the road, in different environments. In Kansas City, where 13,000 people were actually in attendance, being the prime example. But by nature, the Raiders feed off their fan base more than most teams. Having the sound of “RAIIIDDDERRRRS!” echoed by 65,000 people should only boost their chances of finishing off tough opponents.
Some final words for Raiders fans
There are several other reasons I see the Raiders turning the corner this upcoming year. An improved rushing attack, featuring the All-Alabama backfield is one reason. More Foster Moreau snaps, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malcolm Koonce getting after quarterbacks will help as well. Trevon Moehrig locking down the gaping hole that has been the free safety spot is going to do wonders defensively.
I have a good family friend and Raider die-hard who accurately says that the Raiders follow a new motto; gone is “Commitment to Excellence,” having since been replaced with, what he calls, “Commitment to Excrement.” But when you really whittle it down, the picture becomes clear: ride the continuity, improved defense, and the fuel of your fans to your first postseason berth since 2016. More importantly, remember where your commitment lies, and it’s not in a toilet.
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*Top Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal