Raiders +6.5 (5u)
This is a game I had my eye on all offseason as this game fits just about everything I look for in a max play. The only exception is I typically will reserve these kind of plays for a superior team in a very favorable spot but I actually don't expect the Raiders to be very good this season and I'm not even sure if they'll finish .500. But this game tonight is the one spot where we can expect them to show up this season and play well. All offseason there has been nothing but negative talk coming out of the Raiders camp and now obviously they just traded away Khalil Mack and all hell break loose. This is the ultimate stock high vs. stock low game with the Rams the most hyped up team after their success under McVay last year and all of their off season moves but there is a lot to like about the Raiders here tonight.
This is Gruden's first real game since his come back and this is a huge statement game. Many have questioned his return to coaching and where better to silence the critics with a huge opening night win than at home in the Black Hole on the last game of the week on national TV on Monday Night Football where he spent the last six years announcing.
The Rams are the better team and clearly have more talent there is no arguing that but there are a few things that really bothers me about the spot they are in tonight. Firstly, they didn't play any of their key offensive or defensive starters in the preseason. They added a ton of new pieces but these guys have no experience playing together so the first time they play as a cohesive unit will be tonight on the road in an extremely hostile environment. Not an ideal start. They need game like situation reps to get in sync and we saw what happened to the Falcons who also barely played their starters in the preseason. They were a tic slow and out of sync and they were also out of shape with players getting injured and cramping because they weren't able to play themselves into game shape in the preseason.
Last year the Rams caught a lot of teams by surprise with their new offensive system and breakout players in Goff and Gurley who excelled in McVay's new offense but this year teams are going to be very prepared for them. As good of a season as the Rams had last season, now there is a whole season of game film to analyze and teams are going to be much more prepared to counter McVay's scheme this season. Despite this the Rams are still very overrated and overvalued in the betting market and you are going to have to pay a premium to back them this season and this line has just gotten out of hand. There is no way the Rams would be -12.5 at home against the Raiders and that is what this line is implying.
A lot is being made of the defensive additions the Rams made in the offseason and they are absolutely loaded at defensive tackle and cornerback without a doubt. That said, as strong as they are at those positions is as weak as they are at linebacker and edge rusher, especially with the injury to Mark Barron who is one of the best cover linebackers in the league. Early in the season while this newly assembled defense gets acclimated playing together for the first time with no outside pass rush to pressure the quarterback, I see this defense struggling to get stops. In this game especially the strength of the Rams' defense (their front line comprised of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers) may be neutralized somewhat as while the Raiders have some questions at tackle, the interior of their offensive front is one of the best in the league so Carr's pocket should be clean, allowing him to locate his weapons amid a talented, but new secondary that like I said may not mesh well right away.
My biggest concern with the Rams is how Jared Goff is going to play without Greg Olson in his ear this season. Last year Goff had a career year but he didn't make any of his own pre-snap reads. He had a ton of help from Greg Olson who is no longer with the team and to make matters even worse is now the offensive coordinator for the Raiders. Olson knows Goff's strengths and weaknesses very well, and I'm sure he'll give some tips for the Raiders' defensive coaches on how to defend the Rams quarterback much like we saw Todd Haley do for the Browns after he left the Steelers last season.
The Rams won 11 games last year but a lot of that was due to a very soft schedule where they beat up on bad teams. The Rams have extremely high expectations, so I believe there's a very good chance that they'll choke under pressure in this game. Remember, the core of this team is young, and they've never had expectations like these before. They beat up on many bad teams last year, but now opponents will be prepared for them.
Another thing going for the Raiders is we have seen some very strange things happen in late Monday night games over the years. Two years ago, the three-point dog 49ers crushed the Rams. Last season, the inferior Broncos jumped out to a huge lead over the Chargers as hosts. A few seasons ago, the home dog 49ers crushed the Vikings, and yet Minnesota finished with six more victories than San Francisco did that year. Home teams in these very late contests have a tremendous advantage for some reason.
To recap, I certainly respect what the Rams did last season, while Oakland, the most heavily bet team last preseason disappointed. But those results give us value tonight. While many Raider fans are upset with Khalil Mack's departure, I believe the Raiders have to be happy to at least move on from the distraction because he was holding out anyway. Derek Carr has gone from a media darling of a year ago to drawing very little mention as we kickoff the new season. All the attention is on the Rams. The Raiders have covered six of their last eight September games and they fall under a system where teams that didn't make the playoffs the previous season are 57-33 ATS in week-one against teams that did make the playoffs. The teams off a postseason appearance are usually overvalued in Week 1 by the public and that is certainly the case tonight. Home dogs are 15-5 ATS on Monday Night Football since the merger and I look for the Raiders to win this game outright tonight but getting 6.5 (a key number with the new overtime rules) will give us a great buffer. Take the Raiders.