The Las Vegas Raiders will enter the 2021 season with a playoff or bust mentality. Jon Gruden is entering his fourth year as head coach of the team and has yet to make the playoffs. This year, however, the Raiders have assembled a roster that has playoff potential.
Henry Ruggs III, Maxx Crosby and Tre'von Moehrig are just three players who could have breakout seasons on this team. The Raiders have also done a commendable job of surrounding their youth with veterans. Here are three bold predictions for the Raiders' 2021 season.
3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders 2021 season
# 1 - The Raiders go above .500 in their division
The AFC West is arguably the most stacked division in the NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl favorites. The Los Angeles Chargers have star players on both sides of the ball. Finally, the Denver Broncos have a top-five defense. As a result, the Raiders are being slept on. But the Raiders will finish above .500 in their division.
Individual matchups will favor the Raiders in these games. Darren Waller is a mismatch nightmare for defenses. The Chiefs' biggest weakness is at linebacker. Waller can exploit that and erupt for two monster games.
The Chargers are young in the secondary except for Chris Harris Jr. Ruggs, Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards are young, but could take off against inexperienced cornerbacks.
Lastly, the Broncos' front seven could be neutralized by the Raiders' offensive line. Although they lost three starters from a year ago, Alex Leatherwood, Kolton Miller and Andre James looked solid in the offseason and ready to go. It won't be easy, but the Raiders have favorable matchups to be above .500.
# 2 - Darren Waller has more yards than George Kittle or Travis Kelce
Waller will surpass George Kittle and Travis Kelce in receiving yards this year. Waller had 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. But he's Derek Carr's go-to target and will command more targets this year than last year. Waller is as quick as a wide receiver, and you wouldn't know he played tight end if you hadn't seen him before.
He's fast but equally strong. Waller can stiff-arm defenders out of the way, make them miss, or simply outrun them. He doesn't need to run downfield to be a threat and can turn screen passes into 20-yard gains.
The Raiders ranked eighth in passing yards per game last year but could enter the top five if Waller takes his game to another level. There's no reason he can't replicate Travis Kelce's 1400 yard season from 2020.
Kittle and Kelce will still be elite and among the league's top three tight ends. But Waller is turning 29 this year and is as ready as he'll ever be to surpass those two as the league's most productive tight end.
# 3 - The Raiders will have a top 10 scoring defense in 2021
This is hands down the boldest prediction on this list. Last season, the Raiders were 30th in opposing points per game at 29.9. When your defense gives up that many points, it puts a mountain of responsibility on the offense. The Raiders knew this and responded with an abundance of new players that'd fix the problem.
Yannick Ngakoue had an off-year last year but was one of the NFL's most talented pass rushers before that. Casey Hayward Jr. was brought in to be their number one cornerback. At linebacker, there was an overhaul with the additions of Denzel Perryman and K.J. Wright. Both of which should be of significant help.
The Raiders still have draft picks that could reach their potential as well. Clelin Ferrell, Jonathan Abram, and Trevon Mullen could change the fortunes of the Raiders' defense if they begin to play up to their draft pedigree.
The defense is going to decide the Raiders' fate this season. The offense has top ten potential in scoring and yardage, with Carr coming off an underrated 2020. Mike Mayock and Guden did an excellent job attempting to fill the holes on their roster. We'll see if they can live up to these bold predictions when their season begins on September 13.