Oakland Raiders 2011 Schedule, Act 1: The First 4 Games
Well, the NFL officially put the cart before the horse and released the schedule for the upcoming (?) 2011 season last evening.
Apparently undaunted by the fact that there is no labour agreement in place; no reasonable expectation of an agreement anytime soon; or that players would be tased and arrested if they went to their team facility right now, the ever innovative and forward-thinking NFL forged boldly ahead with a schedule for the 2011 season.
I guess they figure if everything works out, they'd better be prepared. Fair enough.
There are some interesting schedules out there, some of them unfortunate. The poor St. Louis Rams, a year removed from being one of the feel good stories in the NFL, may actually take a step back with a better team as a result of what appears to be a brutal schedule.
Predicting the NFL season is a tricky endeavour, as the league has shown herself to be a coy mistress when choosing her playoff partners. With the exception of a few elite teams who win consistently, the NFL playoff party is more seedy dive with no cover than velvet rope VIP. Anyone can get in, usually does, and they don't always look or smell all that rosy.
Add that to the fact that the draft hasn't happened yet, free agency is standing still, and the minor detail of a cancelled season still hanging about, and it becomes an exercise in futility.
But it'll be good times. In four installments. Four games at a time. Here's Act I, which I like to call "From Mile High to the East and Home Again."
Week 1: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, 10:15 PM EST, Monday Night Football
Oh, right. Back in 2008. When Eddie Royal made like Jerry Rice, "Me"Angelo Hall showed his abilities as round peg in a square hole by playing zone corner in the Raiders' man scheme, and the Raiders were thoroughly embarrassed by Jay Cutler and company. That one was in Oakland, though. Even worse.
I think some guy named Russell was miming his way through quarterback for the Raiders at that point as well. I choose to forget that game whenever possible; the promise of a new season was gone by the middle of the first quarter.
That will not be the case this season, as the Raiders have beaten the Broncos three times in a row and have had their number since that opening night debacle in 2008.
I like opening on the road. This team showed last year that they can win on the road, and Hue Jackson has instilled a confidence and toughness among the players that is essential to playing in a hostile environment.
I also like opening against Denver. With a shortened offseason, Tim Tebow will still be getting up to speed and has yet to prove he's an NFL calibre QB - though to be fair he hasn't had much time yet - and the Raiders team speed on defense should negate his scrambling ability.
Jason Campbell will also be in the same offense for two years in a row for the first time since he was a zygote, and he will be reunited with his former OC in Washington, Al Saunders. Continuity in scheme should give Campbell confidence, and enable him to play sharply from the opening bell.
The Raiders haven't played well two of the last three opening games, and it's imperative that a young, improving team have a good start against a division rival. It's time for the Raiders to win an opening game, and this one is very much winnable.
Week 2: Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills, 1 P.M. EST
The only NFL game I've ever attended in person, being that I live in Southeastern Ontario in Canada, was the Oakland Raiders at the Buffalo Bills back in 2008. Bad result, great time, solid game.
Wait, do I notice a theme here? A wistful look back at the good old days of that magical 2008 season?
This is the first of three games in a row against the AFC East; but in which the schedule maker helped the Raiders out, as you'll see.
Under normal circumstances, opening the season with two games on the road would be enough to make any Raider want to poke the league schedule maker in the eye with a knitting needle; but when said games are against the Broncos and the Bills, it drives one to less violent reactions.
While I'm aware that teams can make huge jumps from season to season, the only way the Bills could make such a leap is if they could somehow synthesize the franchise into humanoid form and surgically implant hydraulics in its legs.
It's not happening this season, in other words.
So the Raiders get back to back road games, but against teams that went a combined 8-24 (.250) last season. The Broncos could be improved this season, but it doesn't look good.
The Bills, even less of a chance. And I actually have a soft spot for the Bills due to geographical proximity, but they're terrible and they need a lot of help pretty much everywhere.
It'll be interesting to see if the Raiders are 2-0 - as they probably should be - after this game, 1-1 which could happen on the road in the NFL, or 0-2, which would be cause for me to poke myself in the eye with a knitting needle.
Week 3: Oakland Raiders vs. Rex Ryan's Ego (New York Jets), 4 P.M EST
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Raiders play three games in a row against the AFC East; this is the middle, or meat of the sandwich, game. It is also the Raiders first home game of the 2011 season.
Despite not being in the same division, the Raiders seem to play the Jets every single year. And I personally hate no other team more outside the AFC West past or present than the Jets.
This recent incarnation of the Jets is especially insufferable and difficult to like.
Rex Ryan is a likeable coach, and even his arrogance is endearing. He's one guy who says "Our goal is to win the Super Bowl, and why would I say anything different?" He's honest.
He was also getting insufferably arrogant and in love with his own voice last season. That's gotta stop.
I know that elite athletes and men involved at this level of competition need a certain amount of cockiness to be successful. But the level the Jets players took it to last season was beyond the pale.
Despite their colossal vanity, the Jets should be a formidable opponent. Sanchez continues to grow, Shon Greene gains confidence, and the team as a whole will be resharpening their focus after being unable to recover from the monumental effort they gave the Patriots in last year's playoffs.
This Raider squad can beat these Jets, but they'll have to run the ball well to keep Rex Ryan's mad scientist blitz packages from being sent each and every down. This will be the first true, difficult test of the season - on paper - for the Raiders, and how they respond will go a long way to defining their season.
Last year, the Raiders struggled both at home and against upper echelon NFL teams. Beating the Jets at home would alleviate some anxiety in regard to both of those aspects.
Week 4: Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots, 4:15 P.M. EST
The Tuck Rule.
There, now that's out of the way, we can move on. Or can we? Have I? I don't know. I just know I also hate the Patriots, just as I hate the Jets.
Many say jealousy, and five years ago when I was younger, more petty, and the Patriots actually won meaningful games once in a while, I may have agreed with you.
Now that all of that has changed? Just habit, I suppose.
Anyway, this is the third game in a row against the AFC East, and as I mentioned, the schedule makers gave the Raiders a break. Sure, they open with two games on the road, and then play three games in a row against the same division.
They play the weak Buffalo Bills on the road; and get the notably tougher Jets and Patriots at home.
If the Raiders were actually good at home, then you'd say they caught a break. But that's another story.
The Patriots showed last season they are still among the elite in the NFL as they won their division before falling to the rival Jets at home in the playoffs. In fact, the Patriots haven't won a playoff game in four years, a remarkable stretch for a team that seemed destined for dynastic greatness unsurpassed back in the middle 2000's.
The Patriots are not on their way down; but the Raiders are on their way up. The Raiders have a tough time against the discipline and scheming of Belichick, but they have the weapons on offense to make the Patriots pay for their lack of speed at key positions.
Of course, the Patriots hold the keys to the draft as always, and could and should have a younger, faster, improved squad come season time.
Then again, so could and should the Raiders.
So there's the first four. Two easily winnable games, two difficult games.
The lucky part is that the two winnable games are on the road and would help build confidence and momentum going into the two difficult games.
I honestly feel if the Raiders continue on the path they started on last season, and these teams stay somewhat static in terms of performance and personnel and expectation, the Raiders should be 3-1 after this stretch.
That may be wishful thinking; but so is NFL football right now. I'll be back tomorrow with Act II, which I like to call "Texas makes me weary for home."
Any and all comments welcome as always. Thanks for reading!