Nov 15, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens-Raiders dividing action ahead of MNF opener

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

Nov 15, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 36-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers heavily backed to steamroll Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have the perfect tonic to cure what ails them from a two-game losing streak.

It comes in the form of the two-win Cincinnati Bengals, who will start quarterback Ryan Finley in Monday night’s home game.

The Steelers (11-2) can clinch the AFC North with a win, and they’re 15-point favorites to do so by BetRivers and DraftKings. Pittsburgh is the -1000 moneyline favorite at both books, with 94 percent of the moneyline handle at BetRivers and 95 percent at DraftKings on the Steelers.

Bettors are also backing Pittsburgh with 88 percent of the spread handle at BetRivers and 75 percent at DraftKings.

Pittsburgh is 8-5 against the spread this season but hasn’t covered in its past three games. Meanwhile, Cincinnati (2-10-1) is 6-7 ATS and 1-4 in its past five games.

Both teams have hit the over just once in the past five games. That has led to bettors being split on the over/under, with 54 percent backing the Over at 40.5 at both sportsbooks.

The Steelers won the first matchup of the season 36-10 last month.

That was with Joe Burrow throwing for 213 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals. He went down with a season-ending knee injury the following week and Cincinnati has averaged only 10 points over the past four game.

That includes scoring only seven points in each of the past two weeks. Finley will start Monday night with Brandon Allen recovering from a knee injury.

Finley, 25, has completed 10 of 19 passes for 75 yards with two interceptions in four appearances this season.

Pittsburgh — which scored at least 20 points the first 10 games but has not reached that threshold the past three — also has been hurt by dropped passes, particularly the past three weeks.

“If you’re going to throw the football, you have to catch the football,” Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said.

Both teams have had injury problems that have affected consistency — specifically linebackers and offensive linemen for Pittsburgh, the defensive front and offensive line for Cincinnati.

–Field Level Media

Jan 5, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Bettors heavily backing Seahawks on MNF

The Seattle Seahawks enter Monday night’s game at the Philadelphia Eagles riding a three-game road losing streak and owning the league’s worst defense in terms of yards allowed per game.

That hasn’t dissuaded bettors from putting their money behind the NFC West leaders.

Seattle (7-3) is a 6.5-point favorite among sportsbooks including BetRivers and DraftKings. The Seahawks are being backed by 88 percent of the spread cover handle at BetRivers and a whopping 95 percent at DraftKings, where 91 percent of the total bets have been on the Seahawks.

The action has been similar on the moneyline, with both sportsbooks offering Seattle at -278. The Seahawks have been backed by 84 percent of the moneyline handle at BetRivers and 92 percent at DraftKings.

Bettors also expect plenty of points to be put up at Lincoln Financial Field.

While the defense has been on an historically bad pace most of the season, Seattle is third in the NFL with an average of 400 offensive yards per game. And the Seahawks are welcoming the return of running back Chris Carson from a foot injury.

Meanwhile, the Eagles (3-6-1) are hoping to get their floundering offense on track as they attempt to reclaim first place in the NFC East.

Averaging only 22 points through 10 games, Philadelphia will again be without tight end Zach Ertz.

The over/under at BetRivers moved from 51 to 49 points, with 87 percent of the wagers coming in on the over. The Eagles are 3-1 on the over-under in games against teams with winning records this season.

The over/under also settled at 49 at DraftKings, where 63 percent of the handle and 71 percent of the total bets have backed the over.

It’s an important game for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who enters with an NFL-leading 18 turnovers (14 interceptions, four fumbles). He has also been sacked a league-leading 40 times.

“In this city, it’s all about the QB and the head coach, and everybody else can almost go by the wayside, I guess,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “So it’s almost like a two-man band, but there is enough work to be done by all positions.”

Meanwhile, Seattle expects cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) and center Ethan Pocic (concussion) to return after missing multiple games.

This will be the Seahawks’ third trip to Philadelphia in the past 53 weeks. They posted a pair of 17-9 victories there last season, one of those occurring in the opening round of the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; ESPN Sportcenter announcer/analyst Steve Levy during Monday Night Football between the Arizona Cardinals game against the New York Jets at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Levy, Griese, Riddick to call ‘MNF’ games

ESPN veteran Steve Levy will call the play-by-play on “Monday Night Football” games this fall, the network announced.

He will be joined in the booth by former NFL players Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, who will serve as analysts. Lisa Salters will return for her ninth season as sideline reporter on the telecast, and John Parry will serve as the officiating analyst for a second season.

They are replacing the duo of Joe Tessitore and Booger MacFarland.

The new team is scheduled to debut on the opening Monday of the season, Sept. 14, when the Denver Broncos host the Tennessee Titans at 10:10 p.m. ET.

That will be the second of two games to be televised on ESPN that evening. The network’s No. 1 college team, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, will call the Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants at 7:15 p.m.

“Steve, Brian and Louis are trusted voices of the NFL whose knowledge and love of football connects with fans,” said Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content in a network statement. “We are thrilled that they will join Lisa Salters to make up our new Monday Night Football team and share their passion and insight with football fans in what promises to be a great broadcast each week.”

Levy, 55, is in his 28th year with ESPN. He has been calling college football games on ESPN and ABC with Griese since 2016. He also was the play-by-play announcer for several years on the networks’ NHL coverage, broadcasting games that included the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Griese’s NFL career began in 1998 when the Denver Broncos selected the Michigan quarterback in the third round of the NFL draft. In 11 seasons in the league, the now 45-year-old appeared in 93 games (83 starts) with the Broncos, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins.

He joined ESPN in 2009.

Riddick, a former defensive back who later worked in a pair of NFL front offices, played in 94 games over six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. He has been with ESPN since 2013 and has been open in discussing his desire to fill the “MNF” job.

“Officially official,” he tweeted Monday morning. “Hard work pays off.”

ESPN turned to internal candidates after Peyton Manning and Drew Brees rejected overtures from the network. An attempt to work out a deal with NBC Sports to acquire the services of play-by-play legend Al Michaels also failed.

Brees eventually signed with NBC and will move into an analyst role after he retires as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.

–Field Level Media