How Legitimate Are the Oakland Raiders?
At 5-2, the Oakland Raiders are tied for first place in the AFC West. The Raiders have the second-best record in the AFC -- behind only the mighty New England Patriots -- and they have the second-best record in the NFL.
You read that right. In a division that is home to the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, Oakland is no longer a basement dweller but a pace setter.
While the 5-2 record is nice, the silver and black haven't been a dominant force. Oakland has won three of its five games by a combined 5 points, and the Raiders rank 21st in our nERD-based team power rankings. Oakland’s nERD of -2.31 shows that they should lose to an average team on a neutral field by 2.31 points, based on their efficiency.
Oakland's competition hasn't been fierce with wins over the New Orleans Saints (20th, according to our nERD metric), Tennessee Titans (22nd), Baltimore Ravens (24th), San Diego Chargers (11th) and Jacksonville Jaguars (31st), which only makes it harder to judge how good Oakland really is right now.
No doubt, the four road wins -- all traveling east -- are impressive regardless of the opponent. But let's dig into the numbers and try to figure out how legit this Raiders team is.
Offense on the Rise
Derek Carr continues to mature as he leads a productive Raiders' offense this season.
According to our metrics, Oakland's offense is 7th in schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP), and they rank 8th in points per game (26.4).
The passing game carries the weight of the offense, ranking eighth in Adjusted Passing NEP per play. Wide receivers Michael Crabtree (5th in Reception NEP) and Amari Cooper (11th in Reception NEP) are nightmares for opposing defenses to handle. Crabtree, in particular, has been a monster. Not only has he been very productive, but he's also been extremely efficient, checking in fourth in Reception NEP per target.
The run game isn't quite as strong, ranking 13th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. Contrary to last season, starter Latavius Murray has been effective in limited action, ranking 8th in Rushing NEP per carry among 37 backs with at least 45 carries this season. Rookie DeAndre Washington ranks 27th, and both backs are benefitting from a stout offensive line.
Here lies the problem and the reason why the Raiders rank 21st in our team rankings -- they're really bad defensively.
Per our metrics, the run defense has been the second-worst unit in the league while the pass defense is only slightly better, ranking 28th. Add them together and you get the league's fourth-worst defense -- better than only the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints.
This is a step back from last season, when Oakland ranked 22nd in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. The Raiders are a very one-sided team at the moment.
While Oakland may be a little fortunate to sit at 5-2 by virtue of some close victories, those wins are in the bank regardless. Since 1995, teams that start 5-2 win, on average, 10.2 games and make the playoffs 73% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. So Oakland is in a great spot.
On the flip side, the Raiders have four divisional road games left, and they have yet to play the Denver Broncos, who we have as the NFL's top team. So they're far from home safely.
If the offense slips, they could find themselves relying on a defense that, up to this point, has been pretty terrible.
With a good, young quarterback and an improving offense, Oakland is a team on the rise. But, as our nERD metric shows, they're not as good as their 5-2 record would indicate, and they're probably an offseason or two of defensive additions away from being a true title contender.