Before the 2018 NFL schedule was released, I remember fans anticipating a prime-time showdown between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. Oakland was coming off of a disappointing season, but hired Jon Gruden and the arrow was pointing up. Across the Bay, the 49ers found a franchise quarterback and strung together five wins to close out last season, building intrigue for 2018.
Many thought that the Raiders and 49ers would wind up on opening weekend, but instead the league pushed them back to a Week 9 Thursday Night Football slot. Well, eight weeks into the season and the only similarity between the two teams is the one in the win column.
So how did we get from “one of the best games in the schedule” to “a battle for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft?”
The Raiders’ summer was as choppy as the Pacific Ocean, filled with linebacker Khalil Mack trade rumors and odd veteran signings. On the flip side, the 49ers’ biggest storylines were Reuben Foster’s legal issues and Jimmy Garoppolo’s rendezvous with a female friend.
Yet, before the season even began, San Francisco lost their starting running back Jerick McKinnon for the season and Oakland pulled off a blockbuster deal, sending Mack to Chicago for multiple draft picks.
With a healthy Derek Carr and co., the Raiders are sitting at 1-6. However, in Santa Clara, a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo had led the 49ers to a 1-1 record before getting hurt late in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs. With backup C.J. Beathard under center, San Francisco has lost five straight games in maddening fashion.
The 49ers’ scoring offense is ranked 23rd in the NFL, while the Raiders’ scoring offense is further down the list at 27th. On the other side of the ball, San Francisco’s scoring defense is ranked 28th, while Raiders trail three spots behind.
To this point in the season, Oakland’s dysfunction has been rather inexplicable. They’ve been healthy at major positions and revamped their coaching staff, yet continue to struggle on both sides of the ball. Against the Rams, Chargers and Seahawks, the Raiders only managed to put up 13, 10 and three points, respectively. Their only win on the season is a three-point OT victory against a Cleveland Browns’ team led by rookie Baker Mayfield in his first start.
On the other hand, the 49ers’ issues have been more explicable, as it’s mostly self-inflicted. Kyle Shanahan’s offense has 18 turnovers on the season, ranking 29th in the NFL. Careless giveaways have been the difference in most of their games. Outside of a blowout loss at the hands of the Rams, the 49ers have lost every other game this season by less than 11 points.
Oakland had high expectations coming into the season, but instead they’ve regressed, trading two of their three best players for multiple first-round picks. It’s setting up for a full rebuild in Oakland, with Gruden planning on using the first part of his 10-year contract to construct the roster per his wishes.
For the 49ers, they were coming into Year 2 of a rebuild, but happened to take a step back with injuries to their best offensive players. The front office has identified major areas of need, primarily pass rush and offensive playmakers, but will have the ammunition to do so after this lost season.
While both teams come into Thursday with one win, it’s evident that one team has a plan to address their future, while the other seems to be winging it. The 49ers have a collaborative partnership between John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, while Jon Gruden is seemingly a one-man show in Oakland.
The only similarity that the Raiders and 49ers share eight weeks into the season is the number in the win column. Outside of that, their path to this point couldn’t be any more different.