After entering the season as playoff hopefuls, the Las Vegas Raiders found themselves in a mess — their offensive guru head coach couldn’t find a way to consistently score points, and the quarterback that they had extended to a large contract was benched. The big moves they made, including for one of the top receivers in the NFL, didn’t pan out, with the injuries to the rest of the offense keeping them in check.
That 6-11 season resulted in some pretty significant roster turnover and some concerns about whether or not second-time head coach Josh McDaniels would be able to retain his job. Though he’s safe for another year, he’ll need to demonstrate that he has a handle on things early on for the ownership group — which now includes a quarterback he used to coach — to be satisfied.
But if things do come together, the Raiders have the potential to be as explosive as any team in the league, including the tough ones inside their division. A new quarterback and revamped defense might mean that the Raiders can make good on the promise they showed before last year and make a real run at the playoffs.
Predicting the Best-Case Scenario for the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2023 NFL Season
For the Raiders to make the playoffs and go deep in the postseason, they’ll need the rest of the division to cooperate, which means that those teams will need to struggle. After the seasons that the Chargers and Broncos put together last year, it’s not difficult to envision what that might look like.
The Broncos have been essentially forced to go all-in on Russell Wilson in the hopes that head coach Sean Payton can revive Wilson’s career. In the Raiders’ ideal scenario, Wilson plays much like he did last year while the defense continues to suffer as a result of cycling through defensive coordinators and losing Bradley Chubb.
Meanwhile, the Chargers would continue to suffer from the inconsistency they’ve found on defense and special teams while offensive availability plagues them at receiver and along the offensive line.
The Chiefs, of course, are a different story. Ideally, the league will have begun honing in on the particular style of offense Andy Reid has developed in the absence of Tyreek Hill. While it would be aggressive to say that Patrick Mahomes can be completely contained, the lack of skill weapons outside of a potentially aging tight end might provide a window of opportunity for teams in the division, especially given how young the Chiefs’ secondary is.
The Raiders will have to play well enough to take advantage of those hypothetical opportunities, however. That would mean that the chemistry that Jimmy Garoppolo has with McDaniels and receiver Jakobi Meyers will produce meaningful results.
Garoppolo has been an incredibly efficient quarterback, even his short stint as a starter in New England with McDaniels showcased high-level efficiency. At the same time, it’s been difficult for teams to completely buy into the quarterback; Garoppolo didn’t earn the kind of deal that one would typically expect for his production numbers, and he was only available in the first place because San Francisco acquired a pair of quarterbacks in order to replace him.
If he can be more than a system passer, then an offense with Meyers and Davante Adams could thrive, especially if Michael Mayer is capable of contributing right away. With Josh Jacobs at running back, they should also have a lot of opportunity to create explosives on the ground too.
They would still need more from their defensive line. Whether that means first-round pick Tyree Wilson contributing in a big way or Chandler Jones returning to form, the Raiders cannot enter the season with just Maxx Crosby carrying the pass rush. Adding Byron Young at defensive tackle should help as well, as Jerry Tillery and Bilal Nichols are unlikely to provide an enormous lift there.
The real gamble, however, is the defensive back group. They added a number of corners and a safety and have no idea yet if those players can work together or if their most recent seasons were flukes — Duke Shelley, David Long, and Marcus Epps all have starting experience but not the kind of résumés that are easy to trust.
If the Raiders made the right bets, then they’ll have been able to move their defense from a bottom-ranked unit to one that could keep pace with an explosive offense.
Predicting the Worst-Case Scenario for the Raiders’ 2023 Season
For the Raiders, it’s not difficult to imagine the worst-case scenario. There’s a reason that two teams have moved on from Garoppolo and why the NFL landscape at large hasn’t given him the accolades that normally come with statistical performances like his. He’s been reliant on the team around him to produce explosives, and he’s not fit for a deep-passing offense or one that relies on him to create rather than his teammates.
As a play-action heavy quarterback that many teams evidently feel isn’t fit for all game situations — and therefore requires a managed situation, like the ones an elite defense can provide for him — it’s entirely possible that the Raiders don’t get what they pay for in Garoppolo.
In that case, the offense will be capped, even with a brilliant play-designer like McDaniels at the helm. Throw in the worse offensive line situation in Las Vegas vs. the one Garoppolo enjoyed in San Francisco, and it’s easy to see how disaster might develop.
Defensively, it could be the case that Wilson doesn’t develop quickly and that Jones doesn’t return to form. In that case, the Raiders would be left without a pass rush and an unproven secondary behind them to try and pick up the slack. We’re not too far removed from defensive performances that saw them give up the 26th-most points in the NFL, allowing 30-plus points four different times last year.
And, of course, the division could go sideways. In Denver, Payton could be the mentor to Wilson that unlocks him while that defense continues to roll opposing teams, especially with the recent addition of Frank Clark. On top of that, the Chargers could finally have a healthy season. If so, they’ve got the talent to burn and might be the most talented team from top to bottom in the division.
It almost goes without saying that the Chiefs could dominate once more. One reason their secondary is so young is that they moved veterans partway through the season after seeing how excellently their rookie-contract defensive backs performed. Some of them are already among the best in the league.
The Chiefs have also been very cognizant of their pass rush, with two first-round picks in George Karlaftis and Felix Uzomah-Anudike ready to take over for Frank Clark and players like Charles Omenihu ready to supplement Chris Jones as pass rushers. They also likely have the best linebacker group in the division, even after the Chargers added Eric Kendricks.
It was already a tough task for any team to overtake the Chiefs, but the Raiders, in particular, have made a lot of bets. The worst-case scenario could be fewer wins than last year, even if the roster looks improved overall. A few flameouts at key positions can change an entire season.