David Zalubowski / Assocaited Press
Friday, May 8, 2020 | 9 a.m.
Part of the fun of having a local NFL team is running through the schedule upon its release, marking wins, losses and potential turning points of the season.
So let’s dive right in for the first time with the Las Vegas Raiders after the NFL announced its full 2020-2021 season schedule on Thursday. Some skepticism exists about whether the league will be able to move forward as planned despite the coronavirus pandemic, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s say professional football goes off without a hitch.
Here’s my game-by-game, snap-reaction simulation of the Raiders’ season. Betting lines only existed on their first two games at publication time, so I’ll project where the rest will wind up.
Week 1 — at Carolina Panthers, 10 a.m., September 13 at 10 a.m.
This was quite the fortunate Week 1 draw, even for a team like the Raiders that traditionally struggles in early kickoffs on the East Coast. Carolina looks like it’s entering a rebuilding year with a young defense that needs time to coalesce, a young defense that the Raiders’ offense could torch.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Panthers 20
Week 2 — vs. New Orleans Saints, 5:15 p.m., September 21 (Monday Night Football)
Line: Saints minus-4
The Allegiant Stadium home opener will be trial by fire for the Raiders’ young, rebuilt secondary considering the Saints’ pass play percentage of more than 60 percent last season. It might be especially hard to slow Drew Brees early in the season, when the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer has looked as sharp as ever the last couple years.
Prediction: Saints 34, Raiders 17
Week 3 — at New England Patriots, 10 a.m., September 27
Projected line: Patriots minus-4
The Raiders should have a significant offensive advantage with quarterback Jarrett Stidham presumably making his third career start for the Patriots, but the home team should still field one of the better defenses in the league. It’s hard to call for the Raiders to win twice in the Eastern time zone in three weeks — especially on a short turnaround off Monday Night Football here.
Prediction: Patriots 21, Raiders 17
Week 4 — vs. Buffalo Bills, 1:25 p.m., October 4
Projected line: Raiders minus-2.5
Buffalo should take a step back this season after riding an unsustainably hot defense to a surprise playoff berth a year ago. This is the most likely spot for the Raiders’ first-ever win in Las Vegas.
Prediction: Raiders 28, Bills 13
Week 5 — at Kansas City Chiefs, 10 a.m., October 11
Projected line: Chiefs minus-13
Patrick Mahomes has thrown for 1,194 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception in four games against the Raiders, leading the Chiefs to 4-0 straight-up and 3-1 against the spread records in those contests. There’s no picking against the defending Super Bowl champions in this matchup.
Prediction: Chiefs 35, Raiders 28
Week 6 — BYE WEEK
Week 7 — vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 5:20 p.m., October 25 (Sunday Night Football)
Projected line: Buccaneers minus-1
Despite the hype with Tom Brady joining Tampa Bay, these are two pretty evenly matched teams. Coming off a bye, the situational edge is clearly in the Raiders’ corner. This might be where their defense starts to come together.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Buccaneers 17
Week 8 — at Cleveland Browns, 10 a.m., November 1
Projected line: Browns minus-4
Be afraid of teams with lowered expectations. The Browns were hailed as a Super Bowl contender at this time last year but are now considered a laughingstock. That won’t last long; they’ll be formidable this season under new coach Kevin Stefanski.
Prediction: Browns 28, Raiders 24
Week 9 — at Los Angeles Chargers, 1:05 p.m., November 8
Projected line: Chargers minus-3.5
Even with the off chance that fans will be back in stands by this point, SoFi Stadium isn’t going to be an intimidating venue with the Chargers struggling to sell season tickets. They are also likely to have handed over the reins to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert by now, and the Oregon product is too green to make an immediate impact.
Prediction: Raiders 24, Chargers 20
Week 10 — vs. Denver Broncos, 1:05 p.m., November 15
Projected line: Raiders minus-3
Former Alabama teammates Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, the first two receivers taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, squaring off for the first time will be the storyline here. Look for Ruggs to prevail in Round 1 and score a long touchdown in a shootout win.
Prediction: Raiders 42, Broncos 38
Week 11 — vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 5:20 p.m., November 22 (Sunday Night Football)
Projected line: Chiefs minus-6
See the Week 5 description for how the Raiders match up with the Chiefs, and then take into consideration that the visitors will be coming off a bye this time. A two-game winning streak ends in ugly fashion to a rival.
Prediction: Chiefs 45, Raiders 28
Week 12 — at Atlanta Falcons, 10 a.m., November 29
Projected line: Falcons minus-4.5
Sitting at 5-5, this would become a pivotal matchup for the Raiders. The Falcons will likely be in the same range and just as desperate, however, with the more seasoned roster and one that arguably has a higher ceiling. The Raiders suffer a heartbreaking loss via a Younghoe Koo field goal as time expires.
Prediction: Falcons 20, Raiders 17
Week 13 — at New York Jets, 10 a.m., December 6
Projected line: Jets minus-3
The Jets went 7-9 just like the Raiders last year, except with significantly worse injury luck. They also had what looks like a spectacular draft on paper, making this a tougher game than it may appear. The Raiders lose a second game in a row and the blame (perhaps unfairly) falls on the quarterback, with fans calling for Marcus Mariota to replace Derek Carr.
Prediction: Jets 24, Raiders 14
Week 14 — vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1:05 p.m., December 13
Projected line: Colts minus-3
Even if the Raiders give in and start Mariota, it won’t matter. Buoyed by a well-rounded roster, the Colts are a surprise contender in the AFC and too focused to trip up at Allegiant Stadium. They move within a game of clinching of the AFC South title with a road victory.
Prediction: Colts 31, Raiders 21
Week 15 — vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 5:20 p.m., December 17 (Thursday Night Football)
Projected line: Raiders minus-2.5
With the NFL Playoffs expanded to 14 teams and the AFC light on depth, the Raiders still have slim hopes to reach the postseason at 5-8. Las Vegas makes it a little more realistic by sweeping the series against the Chargers for the second straight year.
Prediction: Raiders 30, Chargers 20
Week 16 — vs. Miami Dolphins, TBD, December 26 or December 27
Projected line: Raiders minus-5.5
At least the Raiders secure a winning home record in their first season in Las Vegas. Miami may take a forward step this season, but it’s still probably another year away from playoff contention. Fighting for its season, Las Vegas gets up big early and coasts to finishing 5-3 at Allegiant Stadium.
Prediction: Raiders 35, Dolphins 17
Week 17 — at Denver Broncos, 1:25, January 3
Projected line: Broncos minus-3
The whole season rides on a rivalry showdown with less-than-ideal circumstances, as conditions are frigid at Empower Field at Mile High where the Broncos have won seven of the last eight meetings against the Raiders. Make it nine of the last 10 as the Broncos’ run-heavier offense is more conducive to success in the snow. The Raiders finish 7-9, the same as last year, in their first season in Las Vegas.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Raiders 16