You could make an argument for Tom Brady over Matt Ryan for last year's NFL MVP, Ezekiel Elliott over teammate Dak Prescott for Offensive Rookie of the Year, or a few guys over the Cowboys' Jason Garrett as the 2016 Coach of the Year.
While you can't bet on who wins NFL Executive of the Year (hey, there's a prop idea), there's no question that the correct winner in 2016 was the Raiders' Reggie McKenzie. He had been the Packers' director of football operations when Oakland hired him in January 2012. That franchise was still an utter mess from Al Davis' final days. It certainly didn't happen overnight for McKenzie as the Raiders were 4-12, 4-12 and 3-13 in his first three seasons. But he was clearing up the salary-cap issues and building through the draft.
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McKenzie's 2014 draft might go down as one of the best in history when he took pass-rushing demon Khalil Mack out of the little University of Buffalo in Round 1, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr in Round 2 and Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson in Round 3. Mack might be the best defensive player in football now, Carr became Top 5 quarterback in 2016 and Jackson is one of the best guards in the NFL.
All those guys are going to become very expensive soon, with Carr perhaps becoming the NFL's highest-paid player sometime this summer, but the Raiders have a Super Bowl core and plenty of momentum off last year's 12-4 finish - the club's first winning record since 2002. Oakland probably wins the AFC West if Carr doesn't break his leg in a 33-25 Week 16 win over the Colts. Oakland had to turn to Matt McGloin in Week 17 in Denver, with the Raiders claiming the division title and the AFC's No. 2 seed with a win. However, McGloin got hurt in the first half vs. the Broncos and rookie Connor Cook was overmatched in a 24-6 loss.
That defeat and Kansas City's win in San Diego gave the division to the Chiefs and relegated the Raiders to a wild-card spot. They never had a prayer of winning in Houston in the postseason with Cook becoming the first QB ever to make his first career start in the playoffs. So while the season ended with a thud, there's a ton of promise here, not to mention a future gleaming new stadium awaiting the franchise in Las Vegas (no state income tax in Nevada, either).
Oakland was 6-2 on the road last season (same as home), 6-2 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Raiders travel to only two playoff teams in 2017: Miami and Kansas City. The home schedule is much tougher. Oakland has three different back-to-back away games and an unfortunate three 1 p.m. ET starts. I project a 5-3 record. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 10 at Titans (+1, 53): I find this to be one of the most intriguing matchups of Week 1 as the 2017 Titans remind me of the 2016 Raiders. Oakland could be looking at a 1-3 start if it loses in Nashville with two more tough road games up next. At least if you are going to be a Pacific Time Zone team playing a 1 p.m. ET game, might as well get one out of the way in Week 1 when you can better prepare for the time difference. The Raiders won 17-10 at Tennessee in Week 3 last year. Oakland forced three turnovers. Key trend: Raiders 4-6 ATS in past 10 at Titans/Oilers.
Sept. 24 at Redskins (+1): Sunday night matchup. Raiders off what should be their home-opening win over the Jets. Obviously a benefit this is at 8:30 p.m. ET instead of 1 p.m. Washington is trying to work out a long-term extension with Kirk Cousins, so his deal and Carr's could be linked in terms of setting the market. The Raiders are 4-2 all-time at the Redskins. Key trend: Raiders 8-2 ATS in past 10 at NFC East teams.
Oct. 1 at Broncos ( -2): Win here and the Raiders should be looking at a minimum four-game winning streak with the next three at home. As noted above, Oakland lost 24-6 in Denver to close last regular season. The Raiders had 221 total yards and three giveaways behind their two clown quarterbacks. Key trend: Raiders 7-3 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Oct. 29 at Bills (+1.5): Raiders off a three-game homestand and with extra rest after hosting Kansas City on Thursday in Week 7. First likely cold-weather game, although Denver is a possibility. It's Oakland's first trip to Buffalo since 2011, but the Raiders beat the Bills 38-24 in Week 13 last year. Oakland was down 24-9 late in the third quarter before Carr started going nuts. Key trend: Raiders 1-9 SU in past 10 at AFC East teams but 6-4 ATS.
Nov. 5 at Dolphins (-1): Sunday night, so another break in avoiding a 1 p.m. ET start in the south Florida heat. Also ahead of Oakland's bye week. Expect the Raiders to go Florida from Buffalo and spend the week practicing at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. They did that last year ahead of back-to-back games at Jacksonville and Tampa (winning both). Key trend: Raiders 4-6 ATS in past 10 before bye (any location).
Dec. 10 at Chiefs (-3): This follows three straight home games for Oakland - if you count one in Mexico as a home game. Raiders host Giants the previous Sunday. Oakland lost in K.C. last season 21-13 in Week 14 on a Thursday. Remember that wobbly Carr pass that maybe hit a TV wire? He was just 17 of 41 for 117 yards on a very cold night, but his receivers had several drops. Key trend: Raiders 0-4 SU & 1-3 ATS in past four as road dog in series.
Dec. 25 at Eagles (+1): Monday night, with Oakland off a huge game the previous Sunday night vs. Dallas. Certainly won't be very warm for this one. It's Oakland's first Christmas game since 2004 and first trip to Philly since 2005. Key trend: Raiders won and covered their lone December game last year as a road favorite. They hadn't been one before that since 2005.
Dec. 31 at Chargers (TBA): As usual, no lines for Week 17 with too many intangibles. Of course the Chargers moving to L.A. this offseason was what forced Oakland's hand to move to Las Vegas in a few years. If the Bolts had stayed in San Diego, the Raiders would probably be in L.A. today. Oakland won its final-ever game in San Diego, 19-16 in Week 15 last year. Sebastian Janikowski kicked the winning 44-yard field goal with 2:40 left, his fourth of the game That clinched a playoff spot. Key trend: Raiders 7-3 ATS in past 10 "at" Chargers.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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