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Breaking down the Raiders 2011 schedule

The Oakland Raiders learned the first piece of their 2011 destiny with the release of the NFL schedule today. Let’s take a closer look and break down the schedule that will begin a new decade of Raiders football. I’ll also delve into the strength of schedule a little bit.

First, let’s revisit the preseason schedule. The furthest distance to travel for the Raiders in the preseason is a visit to the Seattle Seahawks in the final week of exhibition. Their other traveling game will be as slight as a trip across the Bay to their area rival, the San Francisco 49ers. So what’s the point of me rehashing this? Because it is highly favorable toward giving these young Raiders a good kick start to regular season action. Now, let’s look at the regular season schedule:

  1. Monday September 12: Raiders at Broncos 7:15 p.m. ESPN
  2. Sunday September 18: Raiders at Bills 11:00 a.m.
  3. Sunday September 25: Jets at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  4. Sunday October 02: Patriots at Raiders 1:15 p.m.
  5. Sunday October 09: Raiders at Texans 11:00 p.m.
  6. Sunday October 16: Browns at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  7. Sunday October 23: Chiefs at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  8. Bye Week
  9. Sunday November 06: Broncos at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  10. Thursday November 10: Raiders at Chargers 5:20 p.m. NFLN
  11. Sunday November 20: Raiders at Vikings 11:00 a.m.
  12. Sunday November 27: Bears at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  13. Sunday December 04: Raiders at Dolphins 11:00 a.m.
  14. Sunday December 11: Raiders at Packers 11:00 a.m.
  15. Sunday December 18: Lions at Raiders 1:05 p.m.
  16. Saturday December 24: Raiders at Chiefs 11:00 a.m.
  17. Sunday January 01: Chargers at Raiders 1:15 p.m.

Okay, so the soft preseason schedule is followed by the Monday Night opener against a team that they completely obliterated in 2010 by a combined score of 98-37. I’m telling you, the NFL wants the Raiders to do well this year. The NFL decided to follow that up with the Buffalo Bills. So following the short week coming off from the high of beating the Broncos on Monday Night Football, the Raiders face one of the most meager teams in the league on their short week of preparation.

The bad part is that they will have to travel across the country and then back to Oakland. That would be an ideal week for the bye, but as you can see, that is not until week eight. Fortunately, the Raiders get to play two of their toughest opponents at home, the Jets and the Patriots, in back-to-back weeks. The really good part about that is they will see a lot of Patriots on film while they are studying for the Jets. So technically they get a week to prepare for the Jets and like a week and a half to prepare for the Patriots. Still, you may have to hold your breath for that little stint.

The next week will be their new inter-conference rival, the Houston Texans. This marks the sixth consecutive year that these two teams will square off. This will be their seventh overall meeting since the Texans were established, and the Raiders have not fared well in the previous six contests, winning only one of the games in the head-to-head. Their one win came at home in December of 2008. This game is going to be played in Houston against a team that is desperate to prove they are better than their record last year.

Following that rough stretch, they get back-to-back home games against the Cleveland Browns and their arch rival, the Kansas City Chiefs. This should be the point of the season where the Raiders start to hit their stride, but once again, the NFL put their bye week right in the middle of the year. Last year, the bye week killed their momentum of winning three straight games. After the bye last year, they came out flat against Pittsburgh, and were still trying to rub the sleep out of their eyes against Miami the following week.

Fortunately, this year, the Broncos are their opponents following the bye week. So, it’s almost like starting the season all over again. As pitiful as the Broncos were last year, I don’t think they could have drawn a better opponent to wake up with coming out of this year’s bye.

After the Broncos, they’ll face the Chargers for the first time in 2011. This will be their second primetime game of the 2011 season – this time on NFL Network, the first Thursday night game of the 2011 season. The last time these two squads met on a Thursday night game on NFLN, it was not one that you want stashed in the memory banks if you’re a Raider fan. The Chargers just annihilated the Raiders by a final score of 34-7 in the 99th meeting of the AFC West rivals. But the Raiders swept them in 2010, so it should be a more evenly matched contest this time around.

After that, the Raiders get a heavy dose of the NFC North with the Vikings, Lions, Bears, and Super Bowl Champion Packers in four of the next five weeks. The Vikings will be a tough contest at the Metrodome; hopefully no roofs will collapse. The Lions are supposed to be a vastly better team than they have ever, ever been and certainly have the talent on their roster to boast such references. The Bears and Packers were the two best teams in the NFC last year, and the Packers ultimately won it all. The Raiders are going to have to go into Lambeau Field in December and try to knock off the defending Champions. This very well could be the toughest stretch of the schedule for the Raiders. It will certainly go a long way toward deciphering whether or not we see the Raiders in the AFC playoffs. Ironically enough, it comes against NFC teams. Hopefully, these four teams will all beat the crap out of each other prior to their match-ups with the Raiders. 

Sitting smack in the middle of the NFC North run for the Raiders is another trip across the country – this time to south Florida to take on the Dolphins. This game is all about redemption, as the Raiders will be looking to redeem themselves from an embarrassing loss at home against the Fins of last year.

Following an exhausting run of trips across the country and a late season plethora of NFC North opponents, the Raiders will travel to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs yet again. The Raiders have owned the Chiefs at Arrowhead over the past four seasons. In fact, I’m beginning to think the Raiders should pack up and move to Kansas City, because they’ve made such a habit of winning games there lately.

And finally, they will close the season against the San Diego Chargers at home in what could determine the AFC West divisional winner. That’s the NFL’s new thing, to place rivalry matches at the end of the year in hopes of closing out the season on a high note. Raider Nation needs to pack the house during this game, because you already know that the San Diego Charger fans (the original Charger Gaytion™) are going to try and Powder Blue pack the Coliseum.

Overall the Raiders’ schedule is really difficult this year. After further evaluation, perhaps the NFL is not ready for the Raiders to return to their post as the Team of the Decades. I grade the difficulty of this schedule as an A-. If the Raiders can pull off a playoff worthy record out of this schedule, then they truly are a team that has earned their right to be in the playoffs in 2011-2012. If they can’t pull off a playoff worthy record, I wouldn’t be surprised. But you know what they say: the good teams will find a way to win the close games, so here’s hoping they can keep all the games close, even in their losing efforts.