Las Vegas Raiders 2020 season preview: Can defense, Derek Carr step up in first year in Sin City?

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Las Vegas Raiders are ranked No. 23 in ESPN's Football Power Index ahead of the 2020 NFL season. With no preseason games this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Week 1 is the first time we'll see new acquisitions and rookies for every team. Week 1 will also give us the first NFL games since Super Bowl LIV in February.

Here's everything you need to know about the Raiders heading into the season, from the big question to answer and the toughest stretch on their schedule to a bold prediction and potential breakout fantasy football stars.

Full schedule | Roster | Depth chart

The big question: Is the defense re-tuned enough to stay competitive with the Chiefs?

The Raiders could have as many as seven new starters on the defensive side of the ball -- highlighted by DT Maliek Collins, LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, rookie CB Damon Arnette and now-healthy S Johnathan Abram -- compared to last year's season finale starting lineup. They look faster and more fierce but so, too, do the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Stay tuned. -- Paul Gutierrez

How the pandemic has most affected the Raiders

Three players who were long shots to make the initial 53-man roster opted out while three others have been on the reserve/COVID-19 list but are now off it, healthy and practicing -- running backs Devontae Booker and Rod Smith and defensive end Maxx Crosby. Raiders coach Jon Gruden's mantra of "Crush the virus" has been taken to heart by the Raiders in their new home, the coronavirus hot spot that is Las Vegas. So bored was Crosby in quarantine that he took to training on a palm tree in his backyard, getting splinters from working on hand drills against it. -- Gutierrez

Football Power Index projections for the Raiders

Overall ranking: 23

Offensive ranking: 10

Defensive ranking: 30

Special teams ranking: 25

Total wins: 7

AFC West title chances: 5%

Chances to make playoffs: 24.1%

Super Bowl chances: 0.4%

2021 draft pick: No. 9

Inside the Raiders' schedule

FPI's strength of schedule rank: 2

Toughest stretch: The start of the season. Like the first six games. Because while East Coast trips have long been a bane of the Raiders' existence, going to Carolina and then New England in Weeks 1 and 3 are not optimal. Throw in home games with no fans in brand-new Allegiant Stadium against the high-scoring Saints and much-improved Bills in Weeks 2 and 4, and things could get funky in a hurry. And that's not counting a Week 5 roadie in Kansas City, where Derek Carr is 0-6 in his career, and a Week 6 Sin City matchup against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Again, sans fans, so no home-field advantage.

Over or under 7 wins? The Raiders were three plays away from going 10-6 last season. They were also three plays away from going 4-12. So a "push" of repeating last year's 7-9 record seems fair. But with an improved defense, a high-powered offense and QB Carr looking as comfortable as he ever has in a Raiders uniform with more weapons around him, let's go with a strong finish after a tough start to the schedule and take the over. Contending for a wild-card spot would not be too much of a reach, either. -- Gutierrez

Bold prediction for 2020: Derek Carr leads Raiders to the playoffs

Derek Carr, the most polarizing figure in recent Raiders lore, will excel in his third season in Jon Gruden's offense and -- with more weapons and a stout offensive line -- pass for 4,500 yards and 30 TDs to lead the Raiders to a wild-card berth. Continuity is key for Carr, and he will convert his detractors with every long score to Henry Ruggs III and every play he extends while playing in the Pro Bowl in his home stadium. That is, of course, unless the Raiders are in the Super Bowl. What, you wanted bold, right? -- Gutierrez

Breakout fantasy star:Henry Ruggs III, WR

Las Vegas entered the offseason badly in need of talent and speed at the wide receiver position, so it was no surprise when they spent a first-round pick on Ruggs and his 4.27 wheels. The Alabama product is expected to immediately step in as one of Carr's top targets, which will put him on the weekly flex radar. Ruggs finished his final FBS season with a 13.6 YPT and 10.5 RAC, both of which were top five in this year's class. -- Mike Clay

ADP for the top players:

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 30-1 (opened 30-1)

Over/under: 7.5

Playoff odds: Yes +200, No -240

The Raiders move to Las Vegas and sit with a win total at 7.5, a number they have exceeded once in the past eight seasons (12 in 2016). As far as covering, the Raiders were dead even with eight covers and eight non-covers last season. -- ESPN Chalk

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Sept. 1.

Where the Raiders landed in NFL Rank

Speed reads before Week 1

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