The Jon Gruden experiment with the Las Vegas Raiders hasn't resulted in a playoff berth yet – the Silver & Black haven't played extra football since 2016 – but the Raiders have improved in each of Gruden's three seasons. This year, they also finally get to play in front of fans in their new Sin City home. Vegas opens at Allegiant Stadium, nicknamed the "Death Star," in the first Monday night game of the 2021 season on Sept. 13 vs. the Baltimore Ravens, who are 4-point favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook NFL odds.
This writer is very interested to see how much of a home-field advantage the Raiders have in Las Vegas now that fans will be allowed. Obviously, Vegas is going to be a huge destination city for fans of visiting teams. For example, I am a Bears fan and I know that many who already have booked trips to Las Vegas for the Oct. 10 game. Will local fans show up or will visiting fans buy up all the secondary market tickets and take over the stadium much like happened when the Los Angeles Chargers were playing in that soccer stadium for a few years?
Las Vegas started 6-3 last season but faded to an 8-8 record. For some reason, fading seems to be a Gruden staple. Including his time with the Bucs and his first tenure with the Raiders, Gruden's teams are 31-45 in December and January (15-23 with the Raiders), which includes Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run in the 2002 season.
This could be the final year as starting quarterback for Derek Carr. Most teams would be thrilled if their QB completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine picks for a rating of 101.4 as Carr did in 2020, but it seems every offseason there are rumors Gruden is infatuated with another QB. Aaron Rodgers has been mentioned as a Vegas trade target. Carr's dead cap hit for the 2022 season is ZERO so the team could easily move on if need be. Backup Marcus Mariota was often mentioned as a trade piece this offseason but remains with the team.
Vegas has a very nice 1-2 punch at running back with Josh Jacobs and new addition Kenyan Drake, plus one of the league's top receiving tight ends in Darren Waller. There is no true No. 1 wide receiver, however. Could Julio Jones be a possibility? John Brown was the big free-agent addition there.
The offensive line had quite a bit of turnover this offseason. Defensively, the big signing was end Yannick Ngakoue. The Raiders ranked 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks last season while Ngakoue has 45.5 sacks in five NFL seasons, including eight a year ago with the Ravens and Vikings.
No question that the Raiders remain a TV draw as they have three prime-time games in 2021 and are featured on Thanksgiving at Dallas. It's the Raiders first game on the holiday since 2013. Following that trip to Big D, four of the Raiders' last six games are against 2020 playoff teams and the other two are against bitter rivals Denver and the LA Chargers, both of whom could be 2021 playoff teams.
The Raiders' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 8th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting the Bears is the 17th game -- were a combined 142-128-2 last season.
Las Vegas Raiders /William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 8-8 (8-8 against the spread, 12-3-1 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: 8th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .526)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 7.5
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 7.5
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +7000
- To win AFC: +3500
- To win AFC West: +1800
- To make playoffs: No -425, yes +325
- NFL MVP odds: Derek Carr +5000
Las Vegas Raiders Schedule
Week 1 vs. Baltimore Ravens (MNF): Over has hit in past five meetings but teams haven't played since 2018
Week 2 at Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh is 0-4 ATS in past four meetings, last in 2018
Week 3 vs. Miami Dolphins: Miami rallied for a shocking 26-25 win in Vegas late last season
Week 4 at Los Angeles Chargers (MNF): Raiders have won and covered their past two at L.A.
Week 5 vs. Chicago Bears: Added 17th opponent; Vegas is 2-8 SU & 3-7 ATS in past 10 vs. NFC North
Week 6 at Denver Broncos: Raiders ended four-game skid in Denver last year with 32-31 victory
Week 7 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Vegas has covered just three of its past 10 before a bye
Week 8 BYE
Week 9 at New York Giants: Raiders are 0-4 SU & ATS in their past four out of a bye
Week 10 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (SNF): KC has won past three on road in series but didn't cover in 2020
Week 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati is 4-0 ATS in past four meetings overall
Week 12 at Dallas Cowboys (Thanksgiving): Dallas has won past three in the series, last in 2017 on road
Week 13 vs. Washington Football Team: Washington has won past three in the series, last in 2017 at home
Week 14 at Kansas City Chiefs: One of big upsets of last season was Raiders winning 40-23 in KC at +10.5
Week 15 at Cleveland Browns: Raiders were short dogs in Cleveland last year and won 16-6
Week 16 vs. Denver Broncos: Denver is 0-5 SU & ATS in past five as road team in series
Week 17 at Indianapolis Colts: Indy was -2.5 last year in Vegas and rolled 44-27
Week 18 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: Bolts are 5-1 ATS in past six as road team in series
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