The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never before played a game in Las Vegas, of course. But they have played the Raiders before – once on the biggest football stage possible – and they are certainly quite familiar with the current Las Vegas head coach.
Jon Gruden is head into the third season of his second stint as the Raiders' head coach, a pair of postings separated by seven seasons as the Buccaneers head coach and another nine as a Monday Night Football color analyst. In February of 2002, Tampa Bay sent four draft picks and a large sum of cash to the then-Oakland Raiders to pry away Gruden, who had been at Oakland's helm for four years. That very season, Gruden led the Buccaneers to a win in Super Bowl XXXVII over…the Oakland Raiders.
That title game was played in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, now known as SDCCU Stadium, and that adds another potential twist to this year's Bucs-Raiders contest. If construction is delayed too much on the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the Bucs might not be going to Sin City for the first time after all. The Raiders are exploring alternate locations for their 2020 home games just in case, and one of the possibilities is SDCCU Stadium. The Buccaneers playing against Jon Gruden's team at the very site of their Super Bowl win over the Raiders? That would be weird, to say the least.
The Buccaneers and Raiders finished with identical 7-9 records in 2019, and for both teams that represented an improvement over the previous season. Gruden's Raiders appear to be on an upward trajectory, though it's worth noting that they had the NFL's sixth-worst points differential last year, being outscored by an average of 6.6 points per game. In contrast, Tampa Bay actually outscored its opponents on the season, albeit by only nine total points.
The Buccaneers will head to Vegas – or some points currently unknown – in Week Seven for a Sunday Night Football game on Oct. 25. This is the first time that Tampa Bay has been set for a Sunday night game in the original schedule since 2008. The Bucs and Cowboys played on Sunday night in 2016 after their game was flexed into the evening slot.
Las Vegas Raiders
2019 Record: 7-9
Scoring Offense: 24th (19.6 points per game)
Total Offense: 11th (363.7 yards per game)
Rushing Offense: 13th (118.3 yards per game)
Passing Offense: 9th (245.4 yards per game)
Scoring Defense: 24th (26.2 points per game)
Total Defense: 19th (354.8 yards per game)
Rushing Defense: 8th (98.1 yards per game)
Passing Defense: 25th (256.7 yards per game)
Turnover Margin: 21st (-2)
The Raiders were quietly much improved on offense in Gruden's second year, at least in terms of moving the football. They ranked 11th in total yards and eighth in yards per play and were the ninth-best passing team. Oakland gave quarterback Derek Carr good protection (sixth in yards per pass play) and Carr responded by helping the Raiders have the eighth-lowest interception percentage. Carr threw for a career-best 4,054 yards and eclipsed a 100 passer rating for the first time.
Carr did this with a relatively non-threatening wide receiver corps. Tight end Darren Waller led the team with 90 catches and 1,145 yards but no Raider wideout made it to the 50-catch mark. Of course, this all came the season after Oakland traded star wide receiver Amari Cooper to Dallas. The Raiders quite emphatically addressed that situation in the draft.
Raiders' 2020 Draft Class: WR Henry Ruggs (Round 1, 12th overall), CB Damon Arnette (Round 1, 19th overall), WR Lynn Bowden (Round 3, 80th overall), WR Bryan Edwards (Round 3, 81st overall), S Tanner Muse (Round 3, 100th overall), G John Simpson (Round 4, 109th overall), CB Amik Robertson (Round 4, 139th overall)
It started with the selection of Alabama's Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick, making Ruggs the first receiver off the board in the 2020 draft. There was plenty of debate as to whether the best available receiver prospect was Ruggs, his Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, but there's no debate as to who was the fastest available pass-catcher. That was far from the end of the project. After using a second first-round pick cornerback Damon Arnette, the Raiders came back with two receivers in the third round: versatile all-around weapon Lynn Bowden of Kentucky, who could be a force in the slot, and big and physical Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina.
The Raiders were done after Round Four due to a variety of trades but they also helped their secondary with Arnette, an Ohio State product who was not widely projected as a first-round pick, and Louisiana Tech's Amik Robertson, an ultra-competitive but small player who might be a standout slot corner.
Key Veteran Additions: LB Cory Littleton (UFA), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (UFA), OLB Carl Nassib, QB Marcus Mariota (UFA), TE Jason Witten (UFA), WR Nelson Agholor (UFA), S Damarious Randall (UFA), S Jeff Heath (UFA), DT Maliek Collins (UFA)
Notable Departures: LB Tahir Whitehead (Released), S Karl Joseph (UFA), RB DeAndre Washington, DE Benson Mayowa
The Raiders were able to spend most of their early draft capital on offense because they were in position to be aggressive in free agency and hit some significant needs on defense. That included an underwhelming linebacking corps that looks much stronger with the additions of former Rams Pro Bowler Coy Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, who made the most of several opportunities to fill in for injured starters in Chicago. The Raiders also balanced the departure of Karl Joseph with two free agent safeties and added size to their front line with the Cowboys' Maliek Collins.
With the 2019 draft bringing in running back Josh Jacobs, who had 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, the Raiders didn't need much work on offense beyond their receiver run in the draft. They did give Carr an experienced backup in former Titan Marcus Mariota. After re-signing guard Richie Incognito, Las Vegas will be running back an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranked as sixth best in 2019 in both run blocking and pass protection.
The Buccaneers and Raiders will be meeting for the 10th time in the regular season in 2020, and if one includes that Super Bowl XXXVII matchup, possibly in the fourth different location. Prior to their win over the Rams last season, the Buccaneers hadn't played a game in Los Angeles since meeting the Raiders in the Coliseum in 1993. The Raiders own a 7-2 edge in the all-time regular-season series, which Tampa Bay will gladly trade for that 2002 Super Bowl, a 48-21 drubbing in which the Bucs' legendary defense set Super Bowl records with five interceptions and three pick-sixes.