It is beyond dispute that the Oakland Raiders have won 2018 in the Bay Area, largely by losing 2018 in so many other ways.
They are now objectively far more interesting than the San Francisco 49ers, and yes, we are including the mesmeric value of Jimmy Garoppolo’s face. The Raiders face doom. The 49ers are gripped by normalcy.
Now of those two poles, which is more interesting to the modern social rubbernecker?
For those of you whose interests lie outside this small chunk of the NFL's Venn diagram, you will probably not find this as compelling. If, for example, you love the New York Jets, you're fixated on the curative powers of Sam Darnold and care not a whit for a nuclear spill 3,000 miles away. Besides, you have the Jets. They are their own mess.
But the Raiders, who have always played the cranky underdog to the patrician snoots in San Francisco (now known as Santa Clara), are going out in a blaze of WTF, and these days, that's almost as important as winning the Super Bowl.
The Raiders have a face of the franchise who with one single trade is now also the heel of the franchise, merely by trading "I want to bring Oakland a championship" to a four-year plan that starts by getting worse. Come on down, Jon Gruden! This is your doing. Own your work.
The Raiders’ best player is now a Chicago Bear, and the money the Raiders were to commit to Khalil Mack can now be diverted elsewhere – that is, if it actually exists at all. The dubious narrative that the Raiders couldn’t actually afford to pay Mack persists to this day, leaving us to imagine an NFL franchise that actually doesn’t have enough money to do football. Come on down, Mark Davis! Show us your wallet.
They have two years left in a city that gave everything and got back almost nothing in relative terms. Except, wait, it might be only one year if the Raiders decide to hold true to their threat to go to las Vegas ahead of time if the City of Oakland holds true to its threat to sue the Raiders and NFL for leaving town. Come on down, East Bay! You’ve gotten us off the fence about the slowest franchise move in sports history.
Next to that, the 49ers have, what, Jerick McKinnon’s blown knee? Indirect blowback from Colin Kaepernick’s renewed hyper-relevance? John Lynch’s semi-angelic smile?
It’s no contest. This is the Raiders’ year, whether or not it’s the Raiders’ last year.
Oh, Davis tried to make this a smooth transition from the last shards of Dad’s team to his team. He wanted the team to thrive in its final few years in the East Bay so that the fan base could say at least the team gave them warm memories that aren’t 20 years old. The 2016 season was the vehicle to that.
Except that the 2016 season was a lie. Going 12-4 was an elegantly constructed fraud that metric experts first saw as an outlier in a talent-short team, and 2017 proved it. The Raiders went 6-10, Davis scratched his decades-long Gruden itch, and the front office and locker room were demolished as a result. The Raiders are S.O. – Starting Over. They are rebuilding at the worst possible time psychically, and are engaged in a fight with the City of Oakland before they are ready to leave.
In short, Mark Davis’ timing stinks in so many ways.
But all this drama, good and bad, is fascinating stuff. The 49ers, by seeking the more traditional way of winning hearts and minds – competent football with the quarterback as the franchise’s hood ornament – are option for gray with a beige trim. While the plan may well work, it isn’t nearly as much fun to watch.
And by fun, we indeed mean that a gigantic paint factory fire where the explosions happen at random moments is more fun than an intersection with Starbucks on all four corners.
I mean, be honest. What are YOU going to gawk at?
These have been interesting times in Oakland. The A’s are in a playoff race they had no business being in until they decided they could be, and in the meantime keep teasing a stadium they don’t have in a place that nobody knows. The Warriors are four years into a six-year manned mission to the sun. And the Raiders . . . well, you know.
The Giants, on the other hand, have been the epitome of meh, and the 49ers are learning that Garoppolo cannot match the spectacle of a car crash that never ends.
Well, that last part isn’t true. The Raiders' mess will end at some point, either at the end of this year or the end of the next one. But in the meantime, they will be the Dos Equis of football teams. You can have your Tom Bradys and your Aaron Rodgers’ and even your Cleveland Browns, but the Raiders have come from nowhere to explain the NFL in ways you never expected.
The only thing they can do to top this is to sign Kaepernick, and now that he has that Nike bankroll, the Raiders probably can’t afford him either. Nevertheless, the possibilities, while not endless, will be weirder than any of us are prepared to face.