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Graney: Week 1 matters more than you think for Raiders

Jon Gruden isn’t making any predictions, crazy or otherwise.

“Hopefully,” said the Raiders’ coach, “we don’t let them down.”

He speaks of thousands of charged Raiders fans who will descend upon Allegiant Stadium on Monday night. Gruden’s team is set to host Baltimore in a season opener.

Want a take hotter than Laughlin in July? It’s as close to a must-win for the Raiders as any Week 1 could supply.

Not in the sense they must find victory to ensure a successful season. There are 16 more of these things following Monday. The season might not be a marathon but it absolutely covers a 10K distance.

Heck. The Raiders have won two of their three openers since Gruden returned to the franchise in 2018.

They’re also 19-29 overall since then.

How they look

“We’ll see where we are after (Monday night),” Gruden said. “I mean, we’re happy where we are. Baltimore is a great team. We got a tough team. I expect it to be exciting. I’m not going to have any other expectation.”

Here’s one: The significance for the Raiders is more about perception and what sort of reality it produces. How they look as a team might be just as important as what the scoreboard reads at night’s end.

Nobody has skirted the foremost goal of 2021 — from Gruden to general manager Mike Mayock to the nice gentleman who opens the team’s practice facility gates daily.

The average NFL team make the playoffs 3.8 times over a 10-year period. The Raiders have done so once since 2002. That needs to change. Like yesterday.

There isn’t a better opportunity to demonstrate how different things are than initially matching up against one of the league’s most physical sides. Baltimore is tougher than a crocodile’s skin.

The Ravens — injured as they are in key spots — aren’t laying 4 points because bookmakers are fond of the color purple.

“I know everybody on this team has put in the work,” said Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. “It’s finally that time. Looking forward to going out there and putting on a show. It’s going to be electric.”

Gruden is convinced his hiring of Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator — not to mention several new faces on that side of the ball — will finally deliver some level of respectability. Let’s see if the Raiders can stop more than air beginning Monday.

There are questions that need to be answered on what was a Top 10 offense last season for a home crowd bursting at its silver and black seams to potentially witness a Raiders team good enough to play into January.

“I’ve been through my fair share of stories in my time here. I’ve learned to just kind of stay (balanced) and just stay there,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, beginning his eighth season as the team’s starter. “I’m not trying to get too excited. I’m not going to get down when it’s hard because every football game is hard. I think that our mindset is right. We’re ready.”

Let tailgates begin

Monday isn’t everything in a long race of an NFL season. Not close. But in the space of 60 minutes, it could offer a hint at what sort of team the Raiders now have.

It’s true. Predictions this early, crazy or otherwise, are for the birds. Which won’t stop us from offering one.

Want a take hotter than a scorching iron? This one matters far more than just one of 17.

“I’m interested to see how we stack up,” Raiders running back Josh Jacob said. He and countless others.

Let the famed tailgates begin in-and-around the $2 billion domed structure.

Welcome home, Gorilla Rilla.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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