The Las Vegas Raiders will once again be on the outside looking in at the playoffs, something that has become way too common since the early 2000s. Back then, the Rich Gannon-led Raiders were making yearly stops in the postseason, but since then, the Silver and Black have been to the playoffs only three times.
In 2016, the Raiders made the playoffs behind a strong season from Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, only to see their dreams shattered on Christmas Eve when Carr broke his leg. In 2021, under intertim head coach Rich Bisaccia, the Raiders made an improbable run to the playoffs, but ended up losing to eventual AFC Champion Cincinnati.
Since the 2002 season, Las Vegas has not won a single playoff game, but based on how they finished this past year, you have to think they could be a team on the rise. Over at Pro Football Focus, Thomas Valentine put together a list of one thing to be optimistic about for all the non-playoff teams in 2023. For the Silver and Black, the choice was an easy one, as their improved defense could make them a real contender in the AFC next season.
Raiders stacking talent around Maxx Crosby
It all starts with Maxx Crosby, one of the premier players in the NFL, and the heart and soul of this Raiders roster. Crosby had another terrific season in 2023 despite battling through a knee injury, as he managed to rack up 14.5 sacks, 90 tackles, including 23 of which went for a loss, and 31 quarterback hits.
However, for the first time in a long time, it was not just about Crosby, as the entire unit around him played much better than the year before. Malcolm Koonce and Divine Deable look like long-term answers on that side of the ball, and in the secondary, the arrival of Jack Jones late in the season bolstered the Raiders defensive backfield.
On all three levels, the Raiders defense has star power, and you have to think guys like Tyree Wilson, Trevon Moehrig, Nate Hobbs, Deablo, and Koonce are only going to improve going into next season. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is one of the best in the business, so I completely agree that this Raiders defense is something to give the fan base optimism going into 2024.