Oakland Raiders: 5 Early bold predictions for 2017 season
If my bold predictions come true, the Oakland Raiders will be in for a historic 2017 campaign that’ll absolutely have fans wishing the team wasn’t leaving for Sin City.
Last year was a great one for the Oakland Raiders. Although an untimely injury to Derek Carr and early exit from the playoffs were tough pills to swallow, it was a huge leap forward for a franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason in over a decade.
So what does 2017 have in store for the Raiders?
It’s already been a whirlwind of a year for the Silver and Black. The impending move to Las Vegas was a big blow for the fan base, but the on-field product should improve. The Raiders did solid work during the 2017 NFL Draft, and even added a couple of impact free agents a couple of months back.
Put simply, it’s going to be another big season for Oakland. The return of Marshawn Lynch has to have fans excited, and may actually keep the seats full for almost all 16 weeks of the regular season. Especially if Carr is similarly effective and the defense gets its act together in 2017, there’s no telling the type of damage this franchise can do.
For now, though, all we can do is speculate. That’s why I’ve put together a few early bold predictions for the Raiders’ 2017 campaign. Just remember to not take them too seriously–these are meant to be keep the wheels turning while we wait for OTAs and training camp to kick off.
5. Eddie Vanderdoes steals starting job and shines
A few years ago, Eddie Vanderdoes was seen as one of college football’s top interior defenders. Then, a 2015 ACL tear took his stock and sent it crashing down to Earth. His bounce-back 2016 campaign wasn’t all that impressive, leading to his drafting in the third round.
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Luckily for him, Vanderdoes will have every opportunity this offseason to earn a starting job. The Raiders are a tad thin at the three-technique, lacking a true pass-rushing presence on the inside. They also released Dan Williams after the start of free agency, ensuring the top spot on the depth chart was up for grabs.
While Vanderdoes is essentially a mystery at this point, the potential is there for him to emerge sooner rather than later. He’s obviously got the skills, but needs to get back to his pre-injury form. If he can do that, though, Oakland could soon see him shine for a defense that desperately needs more playmakers at defensive tackle.
It’s not going to be easy, especially with players like Darius Latham and Jihad Ward vying for snaps at the same spot. Based on pure talent, though, I believe Vanderdoes will get the job done. Before training camp is over, the former Bruin will have stolen a starting job. By the time the 2017 season is over, he will have asserted himself as one of the NFL’s rising interior defenders.
4. Marshawn Lynch finishes top-5 in rushing yards
As intriguing as the signing of Marshawn Lynch was, it’s shrouded in uncertainty. Beast Mode is a great running back, but he’s getting up there in age and sat out the entire 2016 season after missing most of 2015 due to injury.
Even if he has kept himself in shape, Lynch is likely going to take some time to get back into the swing of things. When that time comes, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the former Seattle Seahawks sensation took this Oakland offense to a whole new level.
When he’s healthy, Lynch is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He runs with reckless abandon, plowing over defenders and exploding through holes along the way. It also helps that he’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2017. All of the pieces are falling into place for him to have a terrific comeback season with his hometown team.
That’s why I’m boldly predicting Lynch ends 2017 in the Top 5 in rushing. He’s done so twice during his nine NFL seasons, in 2012 and 2014. It’ll make the Raiders’ gamble on the 31-year-old running back look like a stroke of genius. Imagine what it’ll do for an Oakland offense that already finished last year ranked sixth in the league.
3. Khalil Mack works his way into MVP race
Last year, Khalil Mack won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. The year before that, he became the first player to ever be named All-Pro at two different positions in the same year. Now, he’s going to make a push to be the first defensive NFL MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.
It’s the natural order of progress for Mack, right? Since entering the league in 2014, he’s taken significant strides year after year. Although his sack total dropped a season ago, he continued to hone his skills as an all-around playmaker. No matter what the opposing offense threw at him, he consistently confirmed his status as a disruptive force — just ask his five forced fumbles in 2016. After Oakland made some improvements on defense, I could see things getting easier for Mack.
With Vanderdoes proving to be a wrecking ball in the middle and Bruce Irvin still providing excellent support on the other side, the former No. 5 overall pick could see his stock rise even further in 2017. An upgraded secondary should give Mack more time to get after opposing quarterbacks as well.
I’m not saying Mack will win the award, because there are too many elite gunslingers out there for that to happen. However, he will make some serious noise and create some discussion like J.J. Watt did back in 2014, earning 13 votes in the process. Based on his current trajectory, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mack earn even more attention from voters in 2017.
2. Derek Carr wins the MVP award
Mack might not win the MVP award, but Derek Carr will.
Realistically, he was right in the middle of the MVP race last season before a Week 16 broken leg brought his campaign to a sudden end. With another year under his belt and more weapons to work with on offense, 2016 could be the biggest yet for Carr.
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Obviously he’s got some outstanding pass catchers to throw to. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are his go-to options, and the Raiders also added Cordarrelle Patterson during free agency. Jared Cook was also signed, giving Carr his first true threat at tight end since coming to Oakland in 2014.
Then there’s the presence of Lynch in the backfield. Assuming he delivers on my previous prediction, opposing defenses will be forced to respect the ground game. That’ll give the Raiders signal caller even more room to shred opposing secondaries and put big points on the board.
It’s not going to be easy with players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan also vying for the honor. However, with the way he played in 2016 and the improvements the Raiders made this offseason, it’s going to be quite the task for teams to keep Carr in check. Look for him to lead Oakland to an outstanding 2017 record while earning himself some serious hardware.
1. Raiders fall one game short of Super Bowl
Let’s be honest, this Raiders team is going to be great. Especially if my predictions regarding Carr and Lynch come anywhere close to true, the Oakland offense will be nearly unstoppable. The defense has made progress this offseason, and the presence of Mack obviously helps.
Unfortunately, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will likely go through New England. And based on what we saw last year and the moves made this offseason, I actually think the Patriots will be better in 2017. Put simply, it’s going to take a near-flawless effort to keep Brady and Co. from making a return trip to the Big Game.
As great as the Raiders can be, I don’t think they’ll have it in them to knock off the Patriots.
That doesn’t mean they won’t come close, though. In fact, the AFC Championship Game seems well within their reach. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oakland secure a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, cruising their way through the Divisional Round. That will set up their showdown with New England for the right to be crowned as AFC champs.
When that fateful game is in the books, the Patriots will be the victors. It’s an unfortunate way to end what I’m predicting will be a tremendous season for the Raiders. As we all know, though, life in the world of sports isn’t fair. There’s always next year…