Are the Las Vegas Raiders a contender for the 2021 season?

By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

After two weeks of the NFL season, one of the most surprising teams has been the Las Vegas Raiders. They are one of two remaining undefeated teams in the AFC along with their division rival Denver Broncos. Every year there’s at least one team who plays better than expected, so for this week’s column, I’ll give my thoughts on if the Raiders are legit.

As of week 2, Las Vegas leads the NFL in total offense with 916 combined yards. One of the biggest reasons for their success has been quarterback Derek Carr. For most of his career, he’s gone under the radar among NFL starters, but this year he’s playing as good as anyone so far. 

Through two games he has 817 yards and four touchdowns with one interception, while completing over 66% of his passes. It’s too early to tell if he can keep this efficiency, but completing two-thirds of your passes is far from easy. What impresses me the most about Carr is the fact he’s playing this well without a top-tier receiver. 

He has tight end Darren Waller who is arguably a top-three tight end, but I wouldn’t consider any of his wide receivers to be top ten. Wide receiver Henry Ruggs III leads Raiders wide receivers with 159 yards. He’s as good of a deep threat as anyone, but he needs to continue to produce if he wants to be a true number one receiver. 

Wide receiver Bryan Edwards has quietly had a strong start to his second season. He has seven catches for 121 yards in two games. He’s a great route runner and seems to find creative ways to get open. I think he’s got a chance of having 1,000 yards this season. Defenses have to focus on taking Waller out of the game, which I think could create more opportunities for Edwards. 

While the passing game looks strong so far, the run game concerns me. Through two games Las Vegas has the third-fewest rushing yards with 134. No one on the Raiders has more than 40 rushing yards in two games which I feel is a red flag. 

Their top running back is Josh Jacobs who had 34 yards in one game. He’s also dealing with toe and ankle injuries that could require him to miss a few games. If he does I think their offense takes a big step back. 

The only other running backs to play so far are Kenyan Drake and Peyton Barber. I think the Raiders either need to rely on Drake to be a number one back or bring in someone to help him out for a few weeks. 

I think Las Vegas can get away with relying almost exclusively on the passing game for two weeks. I’m not sure if they can do it for 15 more weeks. At some point, defenses will catch up to them and if they aren’t balanced, I think their season could take a turn for the worst. 

Not only does their run game concern me, but so does their defense. Through two games, the Raiders are middle of the pack in total defense, pass, and run defense. It’s going to be hard for an average defense to keep up with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. Both teams have dynamic offenses and great quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs and Justin Herbert for the Chargers. They take advantage of lackluster defenses, so it will be crucial for the Raiders defense to take a big step forward. 

I think the AFC wild card race is going to be very competitive this season. I believe at least six teams will be fighting for the three wild card spots, so it likely means a good team will miss out. Outside of their division, the only potentially challenging games are against the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team, and Cleveland Browns. 

If they can win most of the games they should, and get a few upsets, I think they can sneak into the playoffs. What they can’t afford is to lose the games they shouldn’t. In week five they play the Chicago Bears at home. This is a great example of a game they can’t afford to lose. It seems like a potential trap game for Las Vegas, and these are the types of games they need to win. 

With the lack of run game and defensive performance so far, I don’t think the Raiders are a playoff team yet. They have a long way to go, but I think there are too many teams ahead of them. I think Las Vegas is competitive, but on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.

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