Updated August 26, 2023 - 6:09 pm
The 2022 Raiders who finished 6-11 were a better team than the 2021 squad that broke a postseason drought and nearly upset the eventual AFC champion Bengals on the road in Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs.
That has long been my personal belief as someone who covers the team day in and day out while obsessing over film and analytics.
I’m not alone.
The case has been made by many analysts, including SumerSports executive Eric Eager, who wrote an AFC West preview and is in Las Vegas to speak at Circa’s Ultimate Contest Weekend, a de facto convention for the football betting, analyst and fantasy industries.
“It’s mostly just looking at the metrics like how efficient you are as a team,” Eager said of how he arrived at that conclusion. “But even if you want to look at something like point differential, it was better in 2022 than 2021. What’s funny is the prior years, the (coach Jon) Gruden years, were all like that. They were fundamentally 6-10 teams that finished with a better record. Last year was the first year in a long time their record was below expectation.”
A lot of that had to do with a regression to the mean in close games, an area the Raiders dominated in 2021 before coming up on the wrong side of several coin flips last year.
That would make it easy to point blame at coach Josh McDaniels, who took over before last season. Eager, however, says it was more indicative of the relationship between McDaniels and quarterback Derek Carr never really clicking.
“The biggest issue for McDaniels is he just couldn’t connect with and coach up Derek Carr in the same way Gruden did,” Eager said. “So aside from just some of the close game stuff, it was a pretty big downgrade at quarterback, even though it was the same player just by going from one pair to the other.”
Another issue in 2022, which could still continue to affect the Raiders this season, was the fool’s gold aspect of the 2021 playoff appearance. McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler worked hard on the draft and brought in some familiar faces in free agency, but really tried to make the kind of big-name splashes teams usually attempt when they are a player or two away from being a contender.
But since the Raiders didn’t have a true playoff team, the moves left the roster a bit shallow and gave the organization’s brain trust plenty of work ahead to get back into the mix.
“You bring in Chandler Jones with Maxx Crosby, and they’re obviously great players,” Eager said. “But then you find out that if you can’t cover anyone behind them, then it just doesn’t matter.”
So despite having one of the game’s best pass rushers paired with a future Hall of Famer, the Raiders finished third-worst in the league in sacks.
But there is reason for optimism. SumerSports, which provides NFL teams with roster construction analysis tools, gives the Raiders a 26.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s significantly higher than the 20.4 percent market-implied odds.
Eager called Crosby perhaps the league’s most valuable edge defender and believes Jimmy Garoppolo and McDaniels will have a better bond. He points out only five quarterbacks generated more EPA (expected points added) per play than Garoppolo between 2017 and 2022, including postseason games.
“Jimmy Garoppolo is a good enough quarterback to win with if everything else goes right,” Eager said. “The problem is, as far as 2023 goes, that they are limited when it comes to ways to win.”
Overheard, but true
One of the hidden secrets of the sports betting community, once seen as some sort of shady underworld by many, is that there is a great deal of knowledge shared the general public never really hears.
Much of it is true. Plenty of it isn’t.
But there was a story floating around the blackjack tables and pool scene at the event this week about how Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin blocked his team from coming to town for the Las Vegas Bowl last year because he refused to play at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders.
Kiffin’s tenure as coach of the franchise famously ended in bitterness and name-calling back in 2008. The tension apparently hasn’t subsided, even more than a decade after the death of Al Davis, because the rumor was verified by several people in a position to know the details.
Mississippi instead played in the Texas Bowl and lost to Texas Tech. The Las Vegas Bowl had to settle for a disinterested Florida team that had several players opt out and got blown out by Oregon State.
There is no word whether Kiffin would opt out of his team playing in the national title game when it inevitably comes to Allegiant Stadium, but it’s probably not an issue that will actually come up.