Toughest tests: The Raiders were terrible on the road last season, going only 2-6 after they went to the playoffs with a 6-2 mark the season prior. They’ve got to get back to grinding for Gruden and winning close games away from the Black Hole. Opponent-wise, the Rams and Steelers plus their difficult AFC West foes make the home schedule more daunting in what could be the final season in Oakland. Denver, Kansas City and Los Angeles round out what’s arguably the league’s best division.
Biggest breaks: The Browns and Colts look like they would be breaks, but really, the most favorable matchups are on the road against the Cardinals, Bengals and Dolphins. Those five games are critical for the Raiders to return to the playoffs.
Bottom line: The Raiders will be significantly better under Gruden in time, but the coaching change plus remixed personnel in a difficult division will hold them back in the short term. Although Oakland will hang around in the AFC wild-card race because of the schedule’s weaknesses, the team will fall short of its surprise 2016 form. Record prediction: 8-8
The players in the room sounded off about why Colin Kaepernick, who voiced his social activism by kneeling during the anthem before games, had not been signed yet. The biggest theme seemed to be the consensus that the former 49ers quarterback should, in fact, be on a team.
“If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive,” Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long said at the meeting adding, “We all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster.”
Kaepernick’s former teammate Eric Reid, who was the first to kneel alongside him, was direct in saying Kaepernick was being blackballed.
“I feel like he was hung out to dry,” Reid said. “Everyone in here is talking about how much they support us. Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.”
The conversation shifted into discussing ways around the continued attacks from President Donald Trump, who took to Twitter many times to express his disapproval of the player protests.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said the problem is, “We have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America. It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”