The Raiders and Jets are two struggling franchises, desperate to get off on the right foot Sunday.
Though Oakland is coming off a busy offseason and productive draft that have raised both the talent level and expectations, oddsmakers have made the Jets 5½-point favorites.
The reasons are obvious.
First, the Raiders (coming off back-to-back 4-12 seasons) have made so many changes, it’s not certain how many individuals – and the team in general -- will play.
Second, the Jets under head coach Rex Ryan (8-8 in 2013) have a complex defense that utilizes multiple schemes and blitzes, which could be confusing for Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr and the offensive line. Ryan-coached defenses are 7-3 vs. rookie QBs, with those young passers compiling just a 50.7 completion percentage and eight interceptions vs. eight touchdown passes, according to ESPN.com.
And third, there is history: the Raiders have lost 13 consecutive games in the Eastern time zone. Over those 13 games they’ve been outscored 315-155. The last time the Raiders won a game back east was Dec. 6, 2009, when QB Bruce Gradkowski – remember him? – led a comeback victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Until Oakland can pick up a win and obliterate that streak, it’s going to continue to hang over their heads.
The Raiders decided to change their routine this time around, leaving a day early, on Thursday morning. Oakland will practice Friday and have plenty of time to get acclimated for Sunday’s 10 a.m. (PDT) kickoff.
“In my mind, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” head coach Dennis Allen told reporters this week, about the change in travel schedule. “To me it’s something different. It’s trying something new. We’re trying to find every small little advantage we can that will give us an opportunity to play well, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The Raiders have to hope that the final week of the preseason, when Carr shined and the team as a whole played much better against the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks, carries them into the regular season with a bit of momentum.
Though Carr is a rookie, his improvement over the course of training camp was drastic. And on Sunday, he’ll be matched up against a Jets cornerback group that is hurting and questionable. No. 1 corner Dee Milliner is hurt, leaving a pair of inexperienced corners to start.
Though the Raiders keep stressing that they hope to be a run-first team in 2014, they might be tempted to let Carr take some shots downfield against a shaky secondary … if the line shows it can protect him.
Jets linebacker David Harris says it will be up to his team to take Carr seriously and go after him hard. If they underestimate him, they could pay the price. And Oakland could be the one starting this season 1-0.
“He’s a rookie and it’s his first game starting, but as an opponent, you can’t go in thinking like that,” Harris told the New York Daily News. “Because you’ll get lax and get beat. You have to always be on guard for anything they try to throw at us. … because you never know.”
After Sunday, the Raiders will know a lot more about what kind of team they have.