3. Oakland Raiders, Week 5 (Home)
Divisional matchups are wildly unpredictable across the NFL. Players on a floundering team will galvanize each other to overthrow a despised rival with a far-superior roster.
But after the Oakland Raiders shipped defensive end Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears, the previously discussed scenario will not apply to the black and silver when they face the Chargers in Week 5.
Oakland’s defense looked poor even with Mack in the lineup. Now that the Raiders will be void of an upper-echelon pass rusher, their defensive unit could unquestionably be one of the worst in the NFL this season. All three levels of the defense are in dire straights, which includes a woeful secondary.
The Raiders defensive backfield consists of cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin, and safeties Karl Joseph and Marcus Gilchrist, a quartet that will not have quarterbacks quaking in their cleats. Oakland’s pass defense was 26th in 2017 and forced a league-low five interceptions. Furthermore, opposing quarterbacks completed 68.6 percent of their passes when playing the Raiders’ defense. That total was second-worst in the NFL behind the Cleveland Browns.
Oakland’s defensive line will feel the greatest brunt of Mack’s departure, as will a below-average team sack total from last year. The Raiders registered just 31 sacks in 2017, tied for eighth-lowest in the NFL. Of those, 10.5 came from the Fort Pierce, Fla. product, so expect the black and silver to rely on defensive end Bruce Irvin as their premier rusher.
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Irvin recorded eight sacks last season. But with one-third of Oakland’s 2017 sack total heading to Chicago, the Raiders front four of Irvin, Mario Edwards, Tank Carradine and Justin Ellis will be marginalized. To make matters worse, their linebacking corps of Tahir Whitehead, Emmanuel Lamur and Derrick Johnson will be one of the NFL’s thinnest.
It will be an onerous task for the Raiders’ offense to mask the defense’ s deficiencies, but they possess enough talent to keep games competitive. Oakland’s offense is spearheaded by quarterback Derek Carr, who performed at an MVP level in 2016. Although he was underwhelming last season, the Fresno State alumni has displayed an ability to play as a top-10 NFL signal caller.
Surrounding Carr is wide receivers Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and tight end Jared Cook. All three are capable of being excellent pass-catching options for the 27-year old quarterback, but it is no guarantee. Veteran running back and Oakland, California native Marshawn Lynch’s homecoming was not glorious last season. However, the former Seattle Seahawk looked quite fresh in the preseason.
With that said, the Carr-driven attack will not have enough firepower to subsidize the Raiders’ struggles defensively this season, and that includes their first meeting with the Chargers in 2018.