The Raiders were expected to win eight games last year. That was the over/under total heading into last season, though that line was established before Khalil Mack got traded, Bruce Irvin tuned out, Amari Cooper got shipped to Dallas and injuries beset a team loaded with veteran stopgaps.
So, as you'd guess, the Raiders were far worse than .500. The only won four games, and ended up with a high NFL draft pick.
The Raiders have taken a different tact in Gruden's second season, getting younger in a commitment to build through the draft.
That brings tempered expectations, with an over/under at six wins heading into the 2019 regular season.
The Raiders are young but have talent, especially on offense, making it possible to exceed expectations despite a brutal early schedule. Here are five keys for the Raiders to exceed expectations this season, which formally starts Monday night against the Denver Broncos.
Derek Carr finds vintage form
The Raiders quarterback was awesome in 2016. He was confident and in complete control that season, a 12-4 campaign where he was a legit MVP candidate. He was protected well, free to sling passes short, intermediate and deep. He was turnover averse but rarely cautious, and always seemed to come through in the clutch.
The Raiders need all that back in 2019. Carr is supremely confident in his second year under Jon Gruden, with a cast of skill player better than the 201 model. The line isn't as good, and that will have an impact, but Carr's as motivated as ever to have a career year.
A reason why that's an achievable goal: Carr had better stats than 2016 in several area, suggesting he can exceed those totals and find that clutch performance that helps wins games at home and on the road, even against top competition.
That's the biggest key to this season's success and larger than a two-game jump in the win column. As is always true with quarterbacks, Carr will be key to the Raiders taking a leap with a young team led by an experienced signal caller.
Control lines of scrimmage
The Raiders had just 13 sacks last season, and allowed 51. That's a recipe for disaster. Their rushing attack was ho-hum, and their run defense was 30th in the NFL.
That's a recipe for disaster.
The Raiders need significantly better from offensive and defensive lines, though it's appropriate to question whether there's talent available to get that big job done.
The offensive front has some question marks at guard with Richie Incognito and Gabe Jackson out early, and Kolton Miller has to show improvement many expect him to show this season.
The defensive line's floor is higher than last season, but it's ceiling still seems low. The line seems a year away from being an intimidator against the run or pass. That could be a problem for the Raiders, especially in non-shootouts.
Win the turnover battle
Bad teams turn up negative in turnover ratio. Hence, there was no shock that the Raiders were minus-7 here in 2018. They were plus-16 in 2016, when things were going right.
This may be a key of the obvious, but the Raiders must be careful with the football. Takeaways are the game changers lacking in recent seasons, and that simply has to change. It all starts with run defense, setting up obvious passing downs where fumble recoveries and interceptions come easier.
Rookie class makes instant impact
The Raiders have four rookie starters and 11 total on a young roster. Most of them have a contributing role, meaning they can't be weak links. The Raiders need production from the first-round picks especially, with defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram expected to be three-down starters.
Recent Raiders drafts have been lackluster, with rookie contributions rare even from those who have become solid contributors. It's tough to ask for a ton from new pros, but that's required this season, with so many young players in prominent roles.
Quick start over rough terrain
The Raiders have a brutal start to the 2019 slate by any estimation. That includes the NFL schedule makers, who acknowledged that setting the Raiders off on a five-game road trip – there's a bye in the middle, and a home game given to London – starting in Week 3. That could be a season-killing stretch with four of those road games against playoff contenders.
Finding a way to sneak out of the early schedule at .500, and healthy enough to go on a run down the stretch. That could set the Raiders up to exceed six wins and surprise many with better outcomes in the relatively early phases of Jon Gruden's roster rebuild.