Photo credit: @Raiders
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
OAKLAND — Yes, the NFL regular season is finally here. No more of watching unwatchable preseason football and hoping that both teams put on solid efforts.
The Oakland Raiders will begin their 2018 regular season on Monday night when they will welcome the Los Angeles Rams to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The game between the two clubs will be the second game of ESPN’s Monday Night Football doubleheader, which kicks off at 7:20 p.m. PT.
The New York Jets travel to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions in Game 1. Kickoff for that game is at 4:10 p.m. PT.
The Raiders met the Rams in Week 2 of the preseason in Los Angeles. The Rams won a snore of a game, 19-15, with both teams opting to hold out their starters.
This time around, things will be different as this is the regular season and the games count more than they do in the preseason.
The big story surrounding the Raiders has been the trade of defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 2. Oakland was unable to come to terms on a new longterm contract for the star defender.
The Raiders were hoping that Mack would return to the team and play under the franchise tag of $13.8 million but when it appeared that Mack wasn’t going to show up for any of Oakland’s training camp, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie shipped the 27-year-old former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to the Bears for a boatload of draft picks: first- and sixth-round picks in 2019, and first- and third-round picks in 2020.
Along with Mack, the Bears received second- and fifth-round picks in 2020 as part of the deal.
Oakland will miss Mack no doubt. Mack amassed 40.5 sacks over the past four seasons for the Raiders and the name of the game on defense is to hit the quarterback and Oakland just let their best pass rusher walk out the door.
Last season, the Raiders finished 24th in defense last year despite Mack’s 10.5 sacks. This season, the Raiders will need to improve that ranking if they are to return to the playoffs after a dismal 6-10 season last year following a 12-4 campaign in 2016. That means rookies on the defensive line such as P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key will be tasked to pick up the slack for Mack.
Quarterback Derek Carr is looking for a bounce back season of his own in 2018.
Last season, Carr’s numbers dipped a bit: throwing for 3,496 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 86.4 passer rating after throwing for 3,937 yards with 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions to go along with a career-high 96.7 passer rating in 2016.
With Gruden back in town (after taking over for the fired Jack Del Rio), Carr’s play is expected to take off. Gruden is credited as being an offensive genius when designing plays and Carr’s performance will be critical for the Raiders’ offense that finished 23rd in production in 2017.
The Rams defense finished in 12th in scoring defense (20.6 points per game) and are loaded.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Rams into Oakland looking to build off of the team’s first postseason birth since 2004. Los Angeles won the NFC West title after finishing 11-5 last season and are one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019.
Los Angeles added defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to play next to Donald in the offseason, along with cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters via trades to shore up their secondary.
The Rams have one of the best offenses in the league, led by third-year quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.
After a subpar rookie season in 2016 in which he threw for just 1,089 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions under former head coach Jeff Fisher, Goff exploded in 2017 under first-year head coach Sean McVay throwing for career-highs in yards (3,804), touchdowns (28) and passer rating (100.5).
Goff threw just seven interceptions during the 2017 campaign.
Gurley had a bounce back season too under McVay after a disappointing 2016 season where Gurley rushed for a career-low 885 yards and six touchdowns. The fourth-year running back rushed for career-highs in yards (1,305) and touchdowns (13). Gurley finished second in the NFL in total rushing, falling just 22 yards short of league-leader in rookie Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders could have their hands full with a Rams offense that finished first in scoring last season, averaging 29.9 points per game.
After Monday night’s game, both teams will begin their divisional schedule Sunday, September 16, with the Raiders traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos, while the Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Games will be scheduled for 1:25 pm and 1:05 pm, respectively.