Expert NFL Handicapping: Five Reasons to Fade the Oakland Raiders in 2017
The NFL has always been a little more exciting when the Raiders have been prominently involved.
Every good story needs a proper villain. And the Oakland Raiders have been professional football's reprobates through most of their existence. Yet during a prolonged period of pathetic football - they went 56-136 over a 12-year period from 2003-2014 - the Raiders had become a joke, an afterthought, and a relic of a bygone era.
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Then 2016 was a Renaissance year for the Silver and Black. Oakland entered last season with a load of hype and actually surpassed their growing level of expectations, winning 12 games and making the postseason for the first time since 2002. The Raiders went 11-5 against the spread, one of the best marks in the league, and were one of the NFL's darlings.
The Raiders have remained the talk of professional football, with their bombshell announcement of plans to move to Las Vegas serving as the biggest story of the offseason.
Derek Carr, who is coming back from a broken leg that sabotaged Oakland's playoff run last year, looks like one of the league's next great quarterbacks. And with good, young talent on both sides of the ball, this is a group that enters the 2017 season as one of the favorites to win the AFC and the Super Bowl.
However, Oakland is at the top of my list for teams to bet against in the 2017 season. I think there are a host of statistical red flags and some off-field issues that will lead to a disappointing campaign for Raiders backers.
I am not projecting the Raiders to fall back into the abyss. But I think that sharp football bettors will be able to make some cash betting against this team consistently throughout the year. I think the Raiders will post a losing ATS mark on the season, and I think that they will come up short of topping their Las Vegas Season Win Total number of 9.5. Further, I don't consider Oakland as a legitimate contender to win either the AFC or the Super Bowl, so I would avoid any misplaced futures wager on the Raiders as well.
Why don't I like the Raiders? Why am I the only analyst that isn't packing onto their bandwagon? Well, here are five reasons why I am looking to fade the Raiders this year:
First, the Raiders were massive statistical overachievers last year at the most basic level. The Raiders went 12-4 last year despite the fact that they only outscored their opponents by a total of 31 points on the season. The Raiders posted a Pythagorean Win Total of 8.7, meaning that they essentially played well enough to go 9-7. But they went 12-4, meaning they surpassed their expected win total by over three wins on the season, creating a massive differential between what their record should have been and what it actually was.
A recent example of this phenomenon is the 2015 Carolina Panthers. They went 15-1 that year but exceeded their Pythagorean Wins by 2.7, which were almost four standard deviations beyond the norm. Predictably, the Panther stumbled back in 2016, sliding to a feeble 6-10 straight-up mark and last place in the NFC South just one season after making it to the Super Bowl.
Second, the Raiders were one of the luckiest teams in the NFL last year when it came to securing close wins. They went an amazing 6-0 in games decided by a field goal or less or in overtime, the best record in the NFL last year by far. Further, Oakland won five games in which their opponent actually outgained them. NFL teams generally walk a razor's edge when it comes to execution in the final four minutes. And good fortune in the final seconds doesn't usually transfer from one season to another.
In 2014 Dallas went 12-4 in the regular season, blowing away its preseason expectations, and won a game in the postseason before falling to the Packers in the divisional round. As a result, the Cowboys were posted as one of the Super Bowl favorites heading into 2015. But bettors ignored the fact that five of Dallas' 13 wins the prior season had come by four points or less or in the final seconds. The Cowboys slunk to a horrid, injury-plagued 4-12 campaign in 2015 and fell well short of expectations.
Third, the 2016 Raiders were tied for No. 1 in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-16. Turnovers are one of the most important statistics in football. But they are also a bit of fluke and a sort of statistical aberration. And, like close wins, turnovers are another example of something that does not translate from one year to the next.
Over the course of this decade there is a litany of examples of teams that put up big turnover numbers one season only to see a major regression the next. In 2015 the Bengals (+11) and Cardinals (+9) were both among the best in the league in turnover differential. However, last year the Bengals regressed to +3 and saw their wins drop from 12 to six. The Cardinals broke even in turnover differential (+0) and saw their wins fall of from 13 to just seven.
In fact, over the past seven years 23 of 35 teams that finished in the top five in turnover differential won fewer games the following season. And I think that Oakland will be the latest casualty of the fickle turnover beast.
Fourth, Oakland's schedule this season is an absolute bear. The Raiders open with three of their first four games on the road, including a 10 a.m. PST kickoff in their season opener at Tennessee. The Raiders follow that stretch up with three consecutive home games. But after Oct. 20 the Raiders play just three of their final nine games in Oakland. That is due in part to losing a home game to Mexico City, where they will face New England on Nov. 19.
Oakland's opponents' winning percentage is ranked No. 4 and their opponents' point differential last season was No. 1 in the league. Nine of Oakland's 16 games are against opponents that finished over .500 last year. And following their bye they have a brutal stretch against the Patriots, Broncos, Giants, Chiefs, and Cowboys before closing out the season with back-to-back road games.
That schedule is relentless and could put a lot of pressure on this squad.
A fifth reason to be skeptical about Oakland this year is that this team enters the year with a toxic mix of inflated expectations and negative off-field karma.
When South Point sportsbooks released the 2017 NFL season win totals in late April, the Raiders opened at 9.5. Only five teams - the Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Falcons and Seahawks - opened higher. At 14-to-1, Oakland was No. 7 in the league in terms of Super Bowl odds and at 7-to-1 they were the No. 3 favorite to win the AFC.
It has been nearly 20 years since the Raiders have had this level of expectation. And for good reason; over the course of the last 30 years this organization has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons just twice, achieving the feat three straight years from 2000-2002.
The hype around this team is significant. Everyone expects the Raiders to build on last year's success and become a new power in the AFC. The public loves this team and the books know it. So every number associated with the Raiders this year, whether it is their preseason futures odds or their individual game spreads, are going to be inflated. That is going to create value betting the other way.
Finally, the Las Vegas move is a giant dark cloud hanging over the franchise. Ownership may love it. And the city of Las Vegas can be thrilled. But the reality is that the city of Oakland and the Raiders' long-time fan base are furious. The Black Hole is notorious as one of the most hostile home crowds in the NFL. But now all that anger and vitriol are likely to be focused on the Raiders organization itself. Will Oakland fans continue to pack the O.co Coliseum? Will the fans turn on the team if they don't play up to expectations? Just how awkward is this three-year breakup going to be?
I still believe that the Raiders have a solid foundation and they should be a decent team. However, I think that these guys are going to come back to earth after flying so high in 2016. There are numerous very reliable long-term statistical indicators that suggest a regression this season. And when you factor in the ancillary issues surrounding this team - the intense hype and the negative karma surrounding the Vegas move - I think that there is a lot pointing toward a disappointing campaign from the Raiders.
Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
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