The Raiders will be better than 6-11 this season, better than what we saw in coach Josh McDaniels’ first go-round, better than the sports books are forecasting.
Better by two games over last season.
Better as in 8-9.
Two areas — prohibitive ones at that — stand in the way of the Raiders flirting with an AFC wild-card playoff berth.
First, the health of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, which is always a concern for whichever team places him under center; and if what has been a forgettable defense in recent years actually resembles the capable side we witnessed much of the preseason.
If those two things hold up, eight wins is very much in play.
Here’s how they get there:
Sept. 10, at Broncos: Denver coach Sean Payton doesn’t want his players wearing what he calls “Gilligan hats” on the sidelines. If you’re that worried about buckets, how much are you really paying attention to what matters most? WIN, 1-0.
Sept. 17, at Buffalo: Good weather and Josh Allen. Not a good mix for the Raiders. LOSS, 1-1.
Sept. 24, vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has been nails in the preseason and now gets what will probably feel like a home game inside Allegiant Stadium. Yeah. But his hands are still small. WIN, 2-1.
Oct. 1, at Chargers: It’s inevitable these teams split the season series, so we’ll give the home team this one. LOSS, 2-2
Oct. 9, vs. Packers: If preseason Jordan Love is regular season Jordan Love, the Packers are a lot better than most believe. LOSS, 2-3.
Oct. 15, vs. Patriots: Jakobi Meyers now plays for the Raiders, and learned his lesson from that bizarre, unnecessary lateral last season. Hey, throw it to Chandler Jones again. He’s a teammate now! WIN, 3-3.
Oct. 22, at Bears: The Golden Knights play at and beat the Blackhawks the previous evening. The Raiders need to do Las Vegas proud and hold up their end. WIN, 4-3.
Oct. 30, at Lions: We’re just here for the Dan Campbell quotes. LOSS, 4-4.
Nov. 5, vs. Giants: Daniel Jones has a new arm angle. Throwing it underhand is never advised for an NFL quarterback — unless you’re Patrick Mahomes. WIN, 5-4.
Nov. 12, vs. Jets: This might change if Aaron Rodgers finds a dark shack in Summerlin to prepare for the game. LOSS, 5-5.
Nov. 19, at Dolphins: It’s quite possible Miami will have at least 11 players healthy by this time of the season. If so, the week spent in Florida between games won’t do the Raiders any favors. LOSS, 5-6.
Nov. 26, vs. Chiefs: Playing the Chiefs this late in the season will only mean Kansas City has things rolling toward another AFC West championship. LOSS, 5-7.
Dec. 10, vs. Vikings: If the Raiders’ secondary isn’t as improved as the team believes it is, Justin Jefferson might set some sort of single-game record for yards. LOSS, 5-8.
Dec. 14, vs. Chargers: It’s inevitable these teams split the season series, so we’ll give the home team this one. WIN, 6-8.
Dec. 25, at Chiefs: Mahomes probably won’t gift-wrap many mistakes for the Raiders, making it a cold Christmas Day for the visitors. LOSS, 6-9.
Dec. 31, at Indianapolis: Happy New Year’s Eve against the Colts, where all we really care about is where Jim Irsay will be parking his luxury bus. WIN, 7-9.
Jan. 7, vs. Denver: At this point, Payton will have pulled out each strand of hair from his head, the Broncos having fallen short of his expectations in most all areas. The Raiders get a win to end the season but miss the playoffs. WIN, 8-9.
There you have it. A guide to a season that finishes below .500 but improves upon McDaniels’ first year in Las Vegas.
Bucket hats for everyone!
Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.