While there are optimists who believe the Las Vegas Raiders can be in the hunt for a playoff spot this 2023 NFL season, ESPN’s Tyler Fulghum isn’t one of them. Fulghum predicts Las Vegas will finish dead last in their division this season.
The Raiders are in a tough AFC West division, simply put. The Los Angeles Chargers made the playoffs, and the Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champions. As for the Denver Broncos, they hired Sean Payton as their head coach, so the Silver and Black have it rough.
A last-place finish might surprise some due to the Raiders’ top-tier talent on the team. In fact, three players from the Silver and Black made CBS Sports’ top 100 players for 2023. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? A last-place finish in spite of possessing some of the top individual players at their respective positions.
Let’s examine all of this further.
Will the Raiders finish last in the AFC West?
If the Raiders want to reach the playoffs, they must outperform at least two divisional rivals. The Chargers and Chiefs punched their ticket to the postseason last season and are strong contenders to do so again.
Denver was the laughingstock in 2022 after acquiring Russell Wilson via trade but missing the playoffs. Nonetheless, with Payton now at the helm, they should be a better team, considering the 59-year-old’s track record. Fulghum believes these scenarios will play out, leaving Las Vegas in a challenging situation.
“They were a 6-11 team last year,” Fulghum said. “I think something similar is in store this year. I think it’s a downgrade from Derek Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo. The league’s leading rusher a season ago, Josh Jacobs, is unhappy with his contract. He may hold out, and there just wasn’t enough done to fortify this roster around two bona fide superstars like Davante Adams on offense and Maxx Crosby on defense.
“The AFC West should be once again one of the better divisions in all of the NFL, especially if Sean Payton upgrades the Broncos. That’s why I think the Raiders finished last in this division and come in under seven wins.”
Although the national media might be down on the Raiders this upcoming season, football isn’t played on paper. The Broncos were supposed to be a playoff team last season but finished last in the AFC West. Also, every NFL season, there are surprise teams who reach the players. Why not the Raiders?
While Fulghum might not be a fan of Garoppolo, the veteran quarterback is a winner. “Jimmy G” has shown that he can distribute the football to his playmakers and win games. The San Francisco 49ers reached the playoffs and even Super Bowl LIV with this formula. Perhaps this recipe for success might work in Las Vegas too.
3 players included in CBS Sports’ top 100 players…
Several rankings and lists predict the top players on teams heading into the new NFL year. Even though the Raiders are expected to finish last by ESPN, it might be plausible to see them as a playoff team considering their top-tier talent.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco put together a top 100 players list, and three Raiders made the cut. On defense, Maxx Crosby came at No. 38 on the list, and next year, the 25-year-old might be even higher.
The Raiders star had 12.5 sacks in 2022, although many pass rushers would be content with that number, not Crosby. “Mad Maxx” likely wants to be where Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett are slotted since he’s striving to be the best at his position. 2023 might be a coming out party for Crosby to announce himself as the most feared pass rusher in the NFL.
On offense, the Silver and Black had two players make this list, Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs. Prisco put Adams at No. 17, which might be too low considering Pro Football Focus has the Raiders wide receiver as the top player at his position. Still, some rankings will differ, and Prisco’s top 100 is a prime example.
Jacobs came in at No. 52 and has the opportunity to build off being the current NFL rushing champ. However, Jacobs isn’t at training camp, and there’s no timetable date for when he will arrive. If the 25-year-old returns, it will be on the one-year franchise tag after both parties couldn’t reach a contract extension.
If Jacobs does play for the Silver and Black, he will provide “Jimmy G” with a complimentary running game that could help the Raiders reach the playoffs this season. But for now, that remains a mystery.
As far as what ESPN has had to say so far, what say you, Raider Nation? Will the Raiders finish dead last?
*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal