First 5 games and end of year will tell us all we need to know
The front end and back stretch of the Las Vegas Raiders schedule is eye opening — just like that eyes wide open emoji you’ll find frequently used in both texts and social media posts. But the Raiders shouldn’t want it any other way.
The Silver & Black embark on a 2022 campaign with high expectations after bringing in a new regime (general manager Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels) that made the bold move of adding a big-time weapon Davante Adams at wide receiver to compliment quarterback Derek Carr. On the defensive side of the ball, Vegas brought in pass rush terror Chandler Jones opposite of in-house quarterback hunter Maxx Crosby. Not only that, but the team shipped off 2021 sack leader Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
The Raiders have pushed their chips to the center of the table and have declared themselves all in. And the 2022 schedule will tell us all very quickly how the gamble is paying off and where the team will stand.
Vegas’ plays five games then gets a bye to start the year and the early hiatus may seem like an awkward thing. It can go one of two ways (more on that below), but let’s look at the Raiders first five tilts (home games in bold):
- Los Angeles Chargers, Sept. 11 (1:25 p.m.)
- Arizona Cardinals, Sept. 18 (1:25 p.m.)
- Tennessee Titans, Sept. 25 (10 a.m.)
- Denver Broncos, Oct. 2 (1:25 p.m.)
- Kansas City Chiefs, Oct. 10 (5:15 p.m.)
Those contests will give us excellent insight on the grit and moxie of this Raiders football team. A trio of AFC West games — with an NFC West and AFC South foe sandwiched in between — helps shape up the division early and set a pecking order from the get-go.
Week 1 against the Bolts is a solid opener because the matchup is an opportune time for the Raiders to show off their offensive and defensive wares under new play callers. The McDaniels orchestrated offense pitted against Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and Derwin James while the Patrick Graham engineered defense combats Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
There’s two added bonuses to playing the Chargers in the opener:
- The Bolts are the sexy pick to either win the AFC West or make the playoffs but the team can’t cross the finish line. It was the Raiders that got to the playoffs last season by sending the Chargers home. Vegas could stick it to L.A. once again.
- Fortunately for Vegas, this may be listed as a road game, but L.A. still has a heavy-Raider fanbase and influence so this is a home game despite the “at Chargers” designation.
After the road trip to Tennessee, the Raiders face two accomplished quarterbacks in back-to-back tilts in Russell Wilson and his Broncos and Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs. Denver made an all-in move to land Wilson while Kansas City is the perennial favorite in the AFC West until another team knocks them off the perch.
If Vegas is serious about winning the division and/or getting back in the postseason (and perhaps further than the opening round last season), the team must topple their AFC West foes at least once this year. No getting swept.
But those back-to-back division games heading into a bye can be a good and bad thing. Good in a sense it allows the Raiders reprieve after a sturdy opening five games. Bad if the Silver & Black are rolling and head into the bye 4-1. The week off could detrimentally cool the Raiders jets. But, that’s how the NFL schedule makers laid out the 2022 roadmap for Vegas.
The Raiders final six games of the year is a solid test of the team’s mental and physical fortitude. Week 13 through 18 is going to be a grueling grind that either stiffens the Raiders resolve or breaks them down. The contests (home games in bold):
- Los Angeles Chargers, Dec. 4 (1:25 p.m.)
- Los Angeles Rams, Dec. 8 (5:15 p.m.)
- New England Patriots, Dec. 18 (5:20 p.m.)
- Pittsburgh Steelers, Dec. 24 (5:15 p.m.)
- San Francisco 49ers, Jan. 1 (1:05 p.m.)
- Kansas City Chiefs, Jan. 7 or 8 (TBD)
That backend stretch begins and ends with AFC West matchups and the contests in between are equally as tough. But each is intriguing especially the trio of primetime games with the Rams, Patriots and Steelers. National audiences will get to digest the 2022 Raiders in all their glory (they may not of the NFL flexes those games, perhaps).
The regular season finale at home against the Chiefs merits watching. We’ll know well beforehand if this game is a meaningful one for the Raiders. Could this be the “for all the marbles” matchup for the AFC West crown, or a mere formality with the Raiders not vying for a division title or playoff spot?
Without question it’s the contest between master and pupil: Bill Belichick vs. Josh McDaniels. Raiders owner Mark Davis plucked both McDaniels and Ziegler from New England, and the former brought in a slew of coaches from Foxborough to join him in Vegas.
For years Belichick saw McDaniels offense up close and personal and vice versa, so the chess match between the two coaches is going to be a juicy watch.
While he doesn’t smile very much on TV cameras, you better believe Belichick will sport the widest and most sinister ear-to-ear grin if his Patriots stroll into Allegiant Stadium and walk out victorious against his former offensive coordinator.
If the Raiders don’t make the divisional round of the playoffs this coming season, then I consider 2022 a failure. Las Vegas surmounted a myriad of issues last season and made the postseason. This year, it’s a new system backed by championship experience.
A team doesn’t make the audacious trade to acquire Adams if a Super Bowl in the near future isn’t the goal — hence the high expectation. I get where many in Raider Nation would consider the divisional round benchmark too high. The moribund performances the franchise have put forth have eroded the once high standard, unfortunately. The lack of success has fans happy to take a postseason appearance.
But there was a time where the Silver & Black standard was the Lombardi Trophy and not playoff appearances.
Perhaps it’ll be McDaniels and Ziegler that elevate expectations to the proper standard.