The Time is Now for the Raiders

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“Just Win Baby” was the motto from legendary Raiders owner Al Davis.

However, winning is something the Raiders haven’t done a lot of recently.

Believe it or not, it has been four seasons since the Raiders last made the playoffs.

Heading into the Raiders second season in Las Vegas and head coach Jon Gruden’s fourth with the club, the pressure to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 is real.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you will believe Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who isn’t shying away from how he believes the team will perform in 2021.

“We think we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” Mayock told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re not hiding from expectations. I think Jon and I will both tell you that we feel like we need to be a playoff team this year, and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.

“You guys are all going to put that in your headlines, and I understand it. That’s what the expectation is. We think we’ve done the infrastructure work necessary to put us in position, and we got to take care of business.”

Mayock is precisely right for several reasons. The Raiders finished last season 8-8 after beginning the year 6-3. During that hot start, the Raiders went into Arrowhead Stadium and defeated the Golden Child, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in their own building.

But things went downhill for the Raiders in a hurry the second half of the season. During that time span, Las Vegas finished 2-5 in its last seven games with close victories over the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos.

Mayock and Gruden are both facing a critical year in Las Vegas. Mayock has been criticized for some of the team’s draft picks in recent years, including DE Clelin Ferrell, WR Henry Ruggs III, and CB Damon Arnette.

Gruden is in the fourth year of a 10-year, $100 million contract with the Raiders. While his first stint with the Raiders was successful, this one has not been thus far. Gruden has posted a 19-29 mark over the past three seasons, as the Raiders have been unable to reach the playoffs or notch a winning record even once.

Last year was not a typical year for any team, especially for the Raiders. With a number of younger players on the roster, Mayock believes that contributed to the rollercoaster ride of a season.

“We didn’t see any of the quickness, energy, disruption, and explosion last year that we’re seeing this year,” Mayock said. “It’s really cool to see this year. It’s cool to see the light go on, and a lot of that is not having any offseason program.

“Being confused, playing slow. Last year, for me, was a little different. I was frustrated because I felt like in our system on both sides of the ball, it’s tough on young guys.

“The volume is tough, especially on offense, it’s tough. So, no offseason camp was brutal. Managing COVID was hard. It was a different kind of excitement; I don’t think I explained it very well. This year, back to kind of normal, and I’m fired up.”

Not only will the Raiders have to contend with the two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs within their own division, but it appears the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos have gotten better as well.

Los Angeles has a new coach in Brandon Staley and a franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert, who will continue to improve. Denver has one of the more talented rosters in the league and veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who some consider an upgrade over Drew Lock. Not to mention the Broncos defense, which should be better with the return of Von Miller and the selection of Patrick Surtain II.

Not only will the AFC West be challenging for the Raiders, but also so will the rest of their schedule. Las Vegas will play the eighth-toughest schedule in 2021, based on opponents’ combined 2020 win percentage. While the Raiders have played up to their competition in recent years, they’ve also played down to it as well, as evidenced last year in games against the Jets and the Atlanta Falcons.

I believe most Raider fans would say 2021 is a bit of a make-or-break season for the team. With fans coming into Allegiant Stadium for the first time, the Raiders need to field a playoff team sooner rather than later. While the road won’t be easy, the Raiders certainly have the roster to obtain one of the seven playoff spots in the AFC.

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