NFL Week 2: Saints vs Raiders Game Preview

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The New Orleans Saints have been one of the best teams in the NFL each of the last several seasons (with consecutive 13-3 seasons behind them), yet have been snakebit in the postseason each of the last two years. The Las Vegas Raiders are hoping to build a winner in coach Jon Gruden’s third season—and their first in Las Vegas. For two teams at very different points in their trajectory to success as we approach the NFL Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup, what do those interested in NFL betting need to know?

The Saints start with their offensive firepower, ranking 4th in the league in offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) each of the last two years with stars like Drew Brees who has piled up NFL record after NFL record the past few seasons, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara who likewise hold numerous records. What’s made the Saints teams of the last few years different, however, is that they now have the defense to match, with the 8th-ranked defense (by DVOA) last season. It’s no wonder they’ve been a Super Bowl favorite when it comes to NFL betting picks each of the last two seasons!

The Las Vegas Raiders, on the other hand, need to take a step forward in Gruden’s third season so that the masses in Las Vegas will warm to their new team. Given that 2016 was their last year with a winning record (when they went 12-4; they’ve gone 6-10, 4-12, and 7-9 the last three seasons, respectively), expectations are relatively low. Simply posting a winning record this year would be an improvement on their NFL betting lines, as most sportsbook casino postings predicted 7-8 wins for their 2020 season win total.

So far, both teams are off to a good start; the Saints looked every bit as tough as expected in taking the new-look (Tom Brady-led) Tampa Bay Buccaneers down 34-23 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score, and the Raiders escaped a surprisingly scrappy Panthers team in Carolina, 34-30. The Saints and Raiders have played 13 times previously, with neither team holding an edge: The lifetime series is 6-6-1.

Key matchups to watch

Head coach Jon Gruden of Raiders reacts on the field against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 29, 2019

There are plenty of key matchups to watch, but the first is probably the injury report. DE Marcus Davenport and C/G Cesar Ruiz were both out in Week 1 for the Saints, and both will likely miss Week 2, as well. Star WR Michael Thomas injured his ankle, and will likely be out for several weeks. For the Raiders, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, OTs Trent Brown and Sam Young, as well as rookie WR Henry Ruggs all left the win over the Panthers with injuries. Only Ruggs is considered likely available on Monday at this point.

As a result, coaches Sean Payton of the Saints and the Raiders Jon Gruden will likely try and gameplan in ways to attack those injuries. While not having Davenport will hurt, expect to see Cameron Jordan, the Saint’s best edge rusher, in the backfield repeatedly as Payton schemes ways to take advantage of the Raiders’ lack of line depth. Similarly, without the safety valve that Thomas offers Brees, look for Gruden to try and mix up his coverage and blitz packages to try and throw Brees off-balance.

Given that Brees holds several of the most efficient seasons in NFL history, that would normally be a laughable strategy—but there’s a chance he showed his age (he’s in his age-41 season) in the season opener, something we’ll explore more shortly.

New Orleans Saints

Here’s the concern with the New Orleans Saints: When quarterback performance falls off for older quarterbacks, it tends to really fall off. Given that Brees is 41—and given how seriously he considered retiring this past offseason—is it possible that Week 1 was an insight into the season to come?

Consider this:

  • Brees has never been an air-it-out quarterback, but his average pass in Week 1 traveled only 4.1 yards. (Only 5 times in the past ten seasons has Brees had a lower average depth of target.)
  • Brees also got away with a pair of would-be interceptions in Week 1; the normally risk-averse field general threw just 4 picks all season last year, though he did miss 5 games. 
  • Finally, consider that Brees only completed 60% of his passes last week—8.8% below his completion percentage over expectation (CPOE). That was the third-worst mark of Week 1, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins and Carson Wentz.
  • Of course, Brees still posted a Total QBR of 71.9 in a key divisional victory.

Other key questions to watch for the Saints include:

  • Whether they’ve become too reliant on Thomas’ dependability; 
  • If their run game can eat up chunks of clock;
  • If their secondary can play a clean game.

After Michael Thomas (and his astounding 149 receptions) and Alvin Kamara (81 receptions), no other Saint last season had more than Jared Cook’s 43. Cook had 5 receptions for 80 yards in Week 1, but he isn’t a true number one receiver, especially not at age 33. After Cook and Kamara, no other Saint had more than 3 receptions (Emmanuel Sanders) or 17 receiving yards (Deonte Harris, on one target) in the Week 1 win.

The Saints tried to establish their run game against an underrated Buccaneers defense (1st in rush defense by DVOA last season), but only gained 82 yards in 34 carries (a 2.4 ypc average). Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray will have to be more efficient against the Raiders if the Saints want to make their possessions last.

Finally, the Saints gave up 4 huge defensive pass interference penalties in Week 1 for 101 yards—more than the 92 DPI yards Raiders quarterback Derek Carr earned all season last year.

The answers to those questions will go a long way in determining whether or not the Saints can keep marching toward a fourth consecutive division title and hopefully the Super Bowl.

Las Vegas Raiders

Key questions for the Las Vegas Raiders as they hope to earn their first winning record in four years include:

  • Whether or not Gruden actually trusts quarterback Derek Carr;
  • If Josh Jacobs can handle another full season of lead-back responsibilities;
  • Whether or not the defense can hold up to high-octane offenses like the Saints.

Carr has quietly been a steady, above-average quarterback; his 64.1 QBR (ESPN’s adjusted total quarterback rating) last season ranked him tenth in the league, and above more noted quarterbacks like Tom Brady (55.7) and Aaron Rodgers (52.5). Raiders fans—and perhaps Coach Gruden—haven’t been particularly impressed, however, and the Marcus Mariotta signing over the offseason was viewed as competition for Carr by many. If Carr is going to lead the Raiders this season, a bit of confidence from his head coach could perhaps go a long way.

Josh Jacobs ran for three scores to top off his 93 yards in Week 1; this after a rookie year where he tallied 242 carries for 1150 yards and 7 scores. If he can withstand this load week-after-week, the Raiders may have one of the only true bellwether backs remaining in the league, and could chew up the clock against the Saints. (One of the best ways to play defense is to keep the other team’s offense off the field, after all.) And if Jacobs and the Raiders can chew up the clock, the Las Vegas defense won’t have to do quite as much.

NFL Week 2 Preview Summary

T.J. Carrie of the Oakland Raiders is tackled by Daniel Lasco of the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2016, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Even if Brees has lost his edge—and one game does not a good sample make—the Saints simply have too many weapons against a Raiders team that gave up 30 points to the rebuilding Panthers.

Betting Picks and Predictions

Given most online sports betting respect is shown towards the New Orleans Saints (most NFL betting lines expected between 10-11 wins this season), it’s a bit of a surprise to see a line of only -6 or so against a Las Vegas Raiders team that most NFL odds publications would have pegged at 7-8 wins this season. Both teams had no problem scoring in Week 1 (34 points each), so the over/under of roughly 50 seems potentially low, too.

Our prediction: New Orleans Saints 31, Las Vegas Raiders 24

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