The Oakland Raiders have come a long way from the doldrums of the last decade, and there is much optimism that they can record the first winning season since 2002. A young core of players, including QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper, and OLB Khalil Mack, has plenty of prognosticators excited.
The average age of the starters on offense was a ridiculously young 23.9 years of age, and other than the now-retired Charles Woodson, every defensive starter was under 30, with eight of them 25 years of age or younger.
So while youth and expected improvement is on their side, one factor is lurking that should temper enthusiasm: the Raiders were really healthy on offense last year. So while they managed to finish near the league average on offense (17th in points scored), they did so while being at an extreme on the “availability of top players” scale.
How so? Last year, the Raiders had zero missed games among their quarterback, starting running back, top two wide receivers, and best receiving tight end. Center Rodney Hudson and right tackle Austin Howard both missed three games, while the rest of the offensive line started everyone as well. As a result, the top 10 players on offense played in a combined 154 of 160 possible games (96.3%), leading the league.
Compare that to some other teams that finished out of the playoffs last year. The Colts lost Andrew Luck for the season after just 7 games, and left tackle Anthony Castanzo missed 3 games. For Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor missed two starts (both losses), LeSean McCoy missed four games, and Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay three each. Baltimore lost its quarterback, leading receiver, and top running back for the season. Dallas played most of the year without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. San Diego lost its leading receiver and was decimated on the offensive line. Chicago had to start Jimmy Clausen for one disastrous game, had Matt Forte get hurt, didn’t have first round pick Kevin White all year, and had a limited and injured Alshon Jeffery.
Here is a list of the 22 other teams going back to the 2000 season who had zero missed games among the starting quarterback, running back, top two wide receivers, and tight end. (Note: for this purpose, I compared yards per game and starts to determine the top backs and receivers, so I suppose someone who missed entire season wouldn’t show up on this search).
(All info from pro-football-reference.com)
Those teams experienced a pretty significant decline the next season, on average, dropping 3 wins and almost 50 points in scoring compared to the previous year.
Even if we exclude the (mostly veteran) playoff teams, the dropoff for the non-playoff teams who had great skill player health was still notable. Those teams went from 7.5 wins on average to 6.2 wins the next year, and a 47 point drop in scoring.
Does this mean you should expect the Raiders to fall apart? No, let’s not commit the Gambler’s Fallacy and assume that great injury luck will be followed by really bad. Still, the expectation should be that they won’t be as healthy this year. For Oakland to make a significant leap, the improvement by those young players will have to offset any impact to the offense due to injuries.