The opening week of the 2021 NFL season concludes with a matchup of playoff hopefuls who also enter with as many unanswered questions as any teams in the league.
The Raiders will play a regular-season game in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium for the first time, with a sell-out crowd of 65,000 expected to be on hand. They dropped their final four home games last season to finish 2-6 in Las Vegas after opening with a promising 34-24 win against New Orleans last year.
Which Raiders team will show up? And which running backs will Las Vegas’ defense be attempting to corral?
The Baltimore Ravens have outscored their opponents a combined 177-26 in winning their past five season openers. But they also lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries during a preseason that also saw cornerback Marcus Peters suffer a torn ACL.
The Ravens are still 4.0-point favorites at DraftKings, but the Raiders have been backed by 66 percent of the money and 64 percent of the spread-line bets. The betting action has been split, with Baltimore’s -220 moneyline drawing 56 percent of the money but 70 percent of the total bets backing Las Vegas at +180.
The Ravens’ -195 moneyline at BetRivers is drawing stronger support with 60 percent of the money and 73 percent of the total bets. However, the spread-line action has been split, with the total bets nearly 50-50 and the Raiders backed by 54 percent of the money as 4.0-point underdogs.
Of interest will be the atmosphere of the Raiders’ new $1.9 billion home with a packed house. Will it compare to the old “Black Hole” in Oakland?
“It’s go time on Monday night,” Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, wearing a T-shirt with the word “FINISH” on the front, said Thursday. “I don’t know how noisy this one is, but we’ve played in a noisy atmosphere before. It will be another game against a great all-around team. We’re going to have a Monday night fight. How about that? That’s what it’s going to be.”
The Ravens lost running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and Justice Hill (Achilles) to season-ending injuries before the season even began. Baltimore will go with Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon on Monday night, choosing not to activate recently-signed Le’Veon Bell or Devonta Freeman.
“(Bell) has to get his sea legs a little bit, football-wise,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Friday. “Football shape does mean something.”
With the running back situation unsettled, it puts even more of a bull’s-eye on Jackson. The 2019 NFL MVP rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns on 159 carries last season while also completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The Raiders brought in Gus Bradley to rebuild a defense that allowed 29.9 points per game and produced just 15 takeaways during an 8-8 campaign. Among the notable defensive newcomers are defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.
The offense will once again be led by quarterback Derek Carr (4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns, nine interceptions last year), tight end Darren Waller (107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Josh Jacobs (1,065 yards, 12 TDs).
The 50.5 Over/Under has seen pretty even action at BetRivers, with the Over (-107) backed by 53 percent of the money and 60 percent of the total bets on the market. The same market at PointsBet has moved from 51 to 50 points, with the Under backed by 66 percent of the money and 51 percent of the total bets.
The Raiders have made the playoffs just once (2016) since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season.
“We need to be a playoff team this year,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “We think we are going to be a good team. We’re not running from expectations.”
However, head coach Jon Gruden downplayed Mayock’s comments in an interview this week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about the playoffs,” said Gruden, who is entering the fourth year of his second stint as the Raiders’ head coach. “I’m going to talk Baltimore. They want to go to the playoffs, too. … I’m not going to get into that B.S. I’d be very, very upset if we weren’t very confident.”
–Field Level Media