When the Raiders’ schedule was first released, it looked pretty tough.
It still looks that way, but not quite as bad as first glance.
vs Bengals — Sept 13 — Week 1
Raiders win 24-17
Oakland has some distinct advantages here, but a definite defensive advantage. Crabtree gives an advantage with wide receivers as well, and it could be a draw as far as the run game.
Oakland’s ground game gained a lot of steam with the addition of center Rodney Hudson, and Peko was one of the worst defensive linemen in the league last year. Hudson earned high marks in pass protection as well as the run game in 2014, and this is an area where Oakland can dominate this game.
vs Ravens — Sept 20 — Week 2
Ravens win 17-10
This will be a huge challenge for Oakland. Much of it depends on the ground game for either team. CJ Mosely will hamper the Raiders’ rushing attack, and Oakland might not have enough answers for Baltimore’s ground game.
Monroe didn’t quite have the season the Ravens hoped he would in 2014, and though he was often playing injured, there’s limitations on what can be expected. Tuck has had all the success that Monroe could hope for, and will get a shot at multiple sacks.
At Browns — Sept 27 — Week 3
Raiders win 21-10
The Browns, despite a reasonable draft, do not have enough offense to be taken seriously. They don’t know who their quarterback will be, and none of the options appear to have much upside.
Raiders’ Key Matchup: WR Andrew Hawkins vs CB T.J. Carrie
Hawkins is arguably the best receiver in Cleveland, and though he’s made big plays off blown coverages, is the pivotal element. If Carrie can shut him down, the Browns will be even more one-dimensional than they already are.
At Bears — Oct 4 — Week 4
Raiders win 31-10
Chicago’s defense is improved, but not by enough. And their offense isn’t really better than in years prior. Matt Forte might actually fall off the running back cliff this season. It almost always comes down to the ground game.
Mack should have a big game lined up across from Mills, who underperformed in over 800 snaps last season. Mack has already dominated plenty, but this could be his biggest game yet.
vs Broncos — Oct 11 — Week 5
Broncos win 35-14
The Raiders got better, but not by enough to knock Denver out of the top spot. No way, not that much better.
Moore can, and should win this matchup, which is huge since tight ends have always been a big part of Peyton Manning’s game. If Green gets eliminated, though, Denver can just transition to a four wide receiver set and try to win that way.
WEEK 6 BYE
At Chargers — Oct 25 — Week 7
Chargers win 28-21
Oakland hung tough with San Diego both times the two teams met in 2014, and the Raiders should be able to keep it close again. San Diego lost a few key free agents during the offseason, and the Raiders will take full advantage, but they also added some talent in key areas.
Raiders’ Key Matchup: CB Brandon Flowers vs WR Amari Cooper
Flowers is an established presence in the NFL, but such a polished and speedy rookie wide out might give him serious problems. San Diego’s secondary fared very well against Oakland last season, but the Raiders’ upgraded receiver group should be able to win the battle this season.
vs Jets — Nov 1 — Week 8
Raiders win 17-3
The Jets and their lack of offense will not be enough. Sure, they added some pieces, but we’re talking about the Jets still. New York also ranked 24th in points allowed in 2014.
The two linemen know eachother well, and have faced off in practice, but this is not practice. Wilkerson could dominate this battle, and is easy to project as the victor. But the Raiders will play substantially better if Howard can take Wilkerson out of the game.
At Steelers — Nov 8 — Week 9
Steelers win 14-13
This will be an interesting game, depending on the relative health of important players. Antonio Brown and Amari Cooper are similar players athletically, but Cooper is not on Brown’s level. The only game of the season for Oakland that will be decided through the air.
Raiders’ Key Matchup: Le’Veon Bell vs Raiders defensive line
While the Raiders will try and win through the air, they will have to quiet the Bell. It’s not an easy thing to do, and Oakland will likely struggle. But if they can hold him to under four yards per carry, the Steelers most potent weapon will be effectively absent.
vs Vikings — Nov 15 — Week 10
Raiders win 21-17
I like Minnesota’s offseason, but question how quickly Bridgewater and Wallace can acquaint themselves. Wallace scored 10 touchdowns last year, but his first in Miami only held six scores. Whether Peterson can continue after a year off is also questionable.
Raiders’ Key Matchup: LT Matt Khalil vs DE Justin Tuck
Khalil had a preposterous 2014 season, and things likely won’t get much better for him. Tuck should be able to dominate him, and break down Bridgewater’s rhythm. If that happens, the Vikings will become one dimensional in a hurry.
At Lions — Nov 22 — Week 11
Raiders win 31-13
The Lions just aren’t good down the stretch, regardless of the roster or coaches. Why, you ask? Because they’re the Lions. Beyond that, the Raiders win nearly every individual matchup here.
Warford played right guard in 2014, and struggled a fair amount in run blocking. He did protect Matt Stafford well, though, and should swing over to left guard. But he’ll likely struggle against Williams, who should be able to penetrate in the run and passing game.
At Titans — Nov 29 — Week 12
Raiders win 24-13
Tennessee picked two spots higher than Oakland, but their improvements aren’t close to what the Raiders have. They still have a bad offense, and their defense isn’t a whole lot better.
Hunter is entering a phase where many around the league believe he’ll finally live up to his draft hype. Hunter, standing six-foot-four, is a large target that will be tough to manage. If he gets loose, the game could get out of hand quickly.
vs Chiefs — Dec 6 — Week 13
Raiders win 28-10
Oakland will be able to pound away at Kansas City’s line, and stomp their run game. I think this one doesn’t come to the wire like last season’s win over the Chiefs.
The last time the Chiefs played in Oakland, Moore gained national attention after he celebrated a third down sack a little long. This year, he’ll likely have several chances to tackle Charles for a loss as the Chiefs run sweep plays to avoid Oakland’s defensive interior. Moore will need to stay on his toes.
At Broncos — Dec 13 — Week 14
Broncos win 21-17
This one might be a closer prediction, but the result is the same.
vs Packers — Dec 20 — Week 15
Packers win 24-21
While Green Bay is a team that seems to never lose until January, they lose often without Aaron Rodgers. And he’s usually pretty dinged up in December. He’s the piece of the puzzle that might not be there, and if not, the Raiders win. But if he’s healthy, Oakland has no answer.
Raiders’ key matchup: DE Khalil Mack vs RT Bryan Bulaga
Bulaga was resigned just hours before free agency began this offseason, and he’s in for an interesting year with newly added expectations. Rumor has it that the Raiders were aiming for the young tackle, and they’ll get a chance to beat him back here. Odds are that Mack wins.
vs Chargers — Dec 24 — Week 16
Raiders win 13-3
Short week favors the younger team in many cases, though it’s not exact science. The Raiders nearly sweep the Chargers with youth, but not only that. They have become the better team.
At Chiefs — Jan 3 — Week 17
Chiefs win 17-13
This one is at Arrowhead, but there’s a nagging in my prefrontal cortex that is telling me Jeremy Maclin will be injured. But this is based on the total presumption of health, especially because injuries are difficult to predict, so the Chiefs get one over here. By this point, a healthy Maclin should have a rhythm with Smith that is hard to beat. And the Raiders won’t beat it.
Raiders go 9-7. Not a bad turnaround. Especially for a team that has won 11 of their last 48 games.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.