The Las Vegas Raiders revealed their 2020 schedule for their inaugural season in Las Vegas. We take a look at what should be the easiest stretch of the season.
Last season the Las Vegas Raiders were a team of two halves. In the first half of the season they fought through adversity, beat some tough opponents, and overcame a difficult schedule that included going six weeks without a proper home game. They continued to play well and went on a three-game winning streak in what was the easiest stretch of the season.
The scheduled figured to get tougher after Week 11 but at that point the Raiders were 6-4 and had a great chance to make the playoffs. What followed was a disastrous stretch from Week 12 to 17 wherein the Raiders went 1-4 with only two of the losses coming against playoff teams.
We could nitpick about the blown call against Jacksonville and the literal inches of a defensive lineman's hands that cost the Raiders against Denver, but the reality is they could not capitalize on a generous schedule.
Much of that came down to depth and the Raiders have gone to great lengths to address that and positions of need this offseason. The 2020 schedule is a difficult one and much like 2019 starts with a brutal stretch with four playoff teams in the first five weeks.
The back half of the schedule eases up a bit and could be the key to the Las Vegas Raiders making their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Week 14 - Raiders vs Indianapolis Colts
The Raiders went in to Indianapolis in Week 4 of 2019 after a beat down courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings and left with a victory. As 6.5 point underdogs to the Colts, the Raiders were not expected to win the game and despite the one-score difference, it was a somewhat comfortable victory for the Silver and Black.
Indianapolis was missing some key starters in TY Hilton and Darius Leonard but the Raiders did well to contain the Colts offensive attack until the fourth quarter and with about 2 minutes left in the 4th were up 31-17. Derek Carr had an efficient performance and the Raiders relied on a big play from Trevor Davis and hard running from Josh Jacobs to seal the deal.
This time around the Raiders will welcome a familiar foe to Las Vegas as long time Chargers QB Philip Rivers traded his lightning bolt for a horseshoe and joined the Colts in free agency. The move from Jacoby Brissett to Rivers at this stage in his career is a downgrade and it would not be surprising if Brissett wins his job back by the time this game rolls around.
If it is indeed Rivers that is still QB1 for Indianapolis then the Raiders will hope that he continues to be as generous with the ball as he was in 2019 where he threw 5 interceptions in two games vs Oakland. The Colts are a well-rounded team with young stars at several positions including the aforementioned Leonard but they are a team the Raiders simply must beat.
The trip to Las Vegas for the Colts will be sandwiched between two AFC South battles with the Texans so the Raiders can put some stock in being a trap game for Indy as they chase the division title.
Week 15 - Raiders vs Los Angeles Chargers (Thursday Night Football)
In their fourth primetime game of the season, the Raiders will welcome the Los Angeles Chargers to Las Vegas on Thursday Night Football. This game will come just four days after the visit from the Colts but will give the Raiders a chance to notch two AFC victories within a week.
In 2019 the Raiders got the season sweep over the Chargers by a total of 9 points with the date in Oakland being the closer of the two matchups. In both matchups the Raiders relied on turnovers to be the difference with Philip Rivers being incredibly generous with 5 INTs in those two games.
We don't know who the Chargers starting QB will be after they drafted Oregon's Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick but have a veteran in Tyrod Taylor on the roster. They could opt to let Herbert essentially red-shirt for the whole season but in this day and age we are seeing rookie quarterbacks start from day one far more often.
Much like the Colts matchup, regardless of who the opposing QB is this is a game that the Raiders will need to win and absolutely should. The Chargers still have an imposing defense with stars at every level from defensive line to safety and the same can be said about their offense.
Last season their struggles started and ended with the offensive line and Rivers inability to evade pressure to make plays. The Raiders will be hoping that the Chargers will use 2020 as a training ground for their rookie QB and let him learn on the job by taking some lumps against division rivals.
Week 16 - Raiders vs Miami Dolphins
The 2019 Miami Dolphins were on track to be one of the worst teams in NFL history after an 0-7 start and an incredible -171 point differential. They turned things around in the second half of the season going 5-4 in their last 9 games and playing spoiler against the New England Patriots knocking them out of the top two seeds.
Things got even better for the Dolphins as they ended the season with high hopes and still drafted their man in Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa who many believed they were tanking for all along. Much like the Chargers they still have a veteran QB on the roster in Ryan Fitzpatrick but he is the definition of a journeyman and we should see him hand the job to Tagovailoa if he is fully healthy.
Even the best rookie QBs have a learning curve and the Dolphins will be one of the youngest teams in the league after their incredible draft haul of 11 picks. The Raiders will be hoping that their youthful inexperience will lead to an up and down season though we know by now that they will not be an easy out. Head coach Brian Flores had his guys playing inspired football but they did so without the weight of expectations which may not be the case in 2020.
This game concludes the Raiders longest stretch of home games for the season and anything less than 3-0 will be a massive disappointment after the tough first half of the year. They will likely need to make up ground in the division or wild card race and these three games present an excellent chance to do so.
Week 17 - Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Raiders were a Shelby Harris right paw away from sweeping the Denver Broncos in 2019. They used the collective anger caused by the Antonio Brown fiasco to physically manhandle the Broncos in Week 1 and went in to Denver in Week 17 with their slim playoff hopes still alive but fell just short.
In the thin Denver air, Derek Carr had one of his best games of the season with nearly 400 yards passing and a touchdown but the majority of the damage was done in the second half. Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow both contributed with 100 yard receiving games and the defense did well to limit the Broncos offense.
Between Week 1 and 17 both teams underwent massive changes in personnel with the Broncos handing the reins from the ineffective Joe Flacco to rookie Drew Lock. The former Mizzou Tiger played well down the stretch and will have some new toys to play with on offense in 2020 as they loaded up on wide receivers in the draft.
Playing in Denver in January is never an easy task but the Raiders and Derek Carr have had success against the Broncos in recent years, especially after their post-Super Bowl rebuild. We certainly hope that the Raiders' playoff berth has been clinched before this matchup but a wild card spot could be decided in Week 17 in the Mile High City.