Las Vegas Raiders' 2021 schedule: Tough start, finish will determine team's playoff chances

The Las Vegas Raiders' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders will host the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN's Monday Night Football on Sept. 13 (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin January 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what in store for the Raiders:


Sept. 13: vs. Baltimore

Sept. 19: at Pittsburgh

Sept. 26: vs. Miami

Oct. 4: at Los Angeles Chargers

Oct. 10: vs. Chicago

Oct. 17: at Denver

Oct. 24: vs. Philadelphia

Oct. 31: Bye week

Nov. 7: at New York Giants

Nov. 14: vs. Kansas City

Nov. 21: vs. Cincinnati

Nov. 25: at Dallas (Thanksgiving)

Dec. 5: vs. Washington

Dec. 12: at Kansas City

Dec. 18/19: at Cleveland

Dec. 26: vs. Denver

Jan. 2: at Indianapolis

Jan. 9: vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Strength of schedule: 8th hardest, .526

Biggest takeaway

The Raiders, who have had one winning record and been to the postseason only once since 2002, are still a draw, as evidenced by their three prime-time games and Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas. Las Vegas will have to survive a tough start -- home against the Ravens followed by a cross-country trip to Pittsburgh on a short week -- and a brutal finish, as four of their last six games are against 2020 playoff teams. That's not counting two games against division rivals. They need to navigate all that to cash in on their Year 4 under Gruden 2.0 goal: a playoff berth. Still, this will be the seventh time in eight years the Raiders play in Kansas City in December or January.

One question that needs to be answered

Can the Raiders avoid another pratfall to close the season and, finally, in Jon Gruden's fourth season since returning to the sidelines, return to the playoffs? In 2019, the Raiders started 6-4 and finished the season by losing five of six. Last year, Las Vegas was sitting pretty at 6-3, before they again lost five of six before closing the season with a wild win at Denver. Including his time in Tampa Bay and his first tenure with the Raiders, Gruden's teams are just 31-45 in December and January (15-23 with the Raiders, 16-22 with the Buccaneers), and that includes Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run in the 2002 season.

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Raiders' win total at 7.5. Considering they have improved from four wins to seven wins to eight wins in Gruden's three seasons, and the league added a 17th game, another jump is expected, right? Only if the rebuilt defense can close out games and the retooled offensive line can protect quarterback Derek Carr. Big ifs, but doable.

Bold prediction

The offense will hum early, the defense will not fold late and the Raiders will win more than they lose in December and January and, backed by a raucous homefield advantage in a fan-filled Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas will finally (mercifully?) fulfill Jon Gruden's vision and qualify for the playoffs. You wanted bold, right?