I see the Raiders as the Titans except sped up a year. The Raiders have a young nucleus on offense, one of the game’s best offensive units across the board, and the game’s best edge rusher. There’s a lot to like about their team and might be the flavor of the month for who is the best equipped to challenge the Patriots in the AFC from the talking heads. Derek Carr is a franchise QB, who recently just got paid, and a big part of the Raiders’ recent resurgence.
Offensively it’s a strong offensive line, even though their running back corps wasn’t good. They managed to convince Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement after losing Latavius Murray, who might have been the only starting RB who was less productive than LeGarrette Blount on 1st and 10 situations, to the Vikings. They added DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard last year, both of whom are more of the James White/Dion Lewis type RB that get a lot of outside runs and thrown the ball in space. The RB position is a total projection since Lynch sat out the 2016 season after retiring, likely because he was still fuming about not getting the football on the play for what will be forever remembered as “The Butler Did It” play.
Their pass catching crew mostly starts and ends with Amari Cooper. Cooper is a special talent with fluid skills and route running in addition to strong hands. Michael Crabtree is a decent #2 receiver, eclipsing the 1,000 receiving yards mark in 2016. They also have a decent slot receiver in Seth Roberts, who was Malcolm Butler’s teammate in college. Their backs are solid pass catchers, but their tight end group won’t scare teams. The Patriots corners matchup well against the Raiders receivers.
The Raiders defense features arguably one of the game’s best defensive players in Khalil Mack. Mack is a better all-around player than Von Miller and if not left in check can single-handedly wreck the Patriots offense. The Patriots game plan against him should be double 52 and make someone else try to beat you in 1 on 1. The Patriots receiving corps can matchup well against the Raiders in space with their backs, tight-ends, and slot receivers. Even though the Raiders have the game’s best edge rusher, the Patriots do have advantageous matchups in the passing game.
The reason I put the Raiders higher than the Steelers is mostly because the Patriots haven’t really faced this Raiders team. In 2014, Derek Carr was making his 3rd career start on what ended up being a 4-12 season for the Raiders. The Patriots barely escaped this game, mostly because the offense was out of whack the first month of the season before obliterating the rest of the NFL that season. The Raiders roster is a lot like the Steelers in being offense-heavy. The Patriots tend to crush those teams that lack a strong defense, especially at home while their defense is able to slow down the opposing offense. The Raiders 3rd, 4th, and 5th weapons are better than the Steelers as well.
At the end of the day, I don’t see the Raiders beating the Patriots in a head-to-head in Foxborough in January. The Raiders have a strong offense and solid enough defense that won’t lose them games. However, the defense as a unit is one I don’t see being able to limit the Patriots to under 30 points in a postseason matchup unless they let Khalil Mack run wild or the offense is completely decimated by injuries. At the same time, I don’t see the Raiders scoring 30 points in a postseason matchup in Foxborough unless the Patriots are decimated by injuries or make way too many mistakes on the field.