If you want to turn your attention away from all the potential blowouts on the afternoon slate this Sunday, tune in to the only game with a spread in single digits, featuring the 4-2 Las Vegas Raiders hosting the 2-4 Philadelphia Eagles. On the surface, the Raiders are the better team playing at home and should hold serve as they fight for a playoff spot in the AFC. They recently lost their head coach but played a solid game last week in his absence. Meanwhile, the Eagles have struggled to find their identity as rookie head coach Nick Sirianni’s growing pains have been on full display. Yet the betting market is treating these teams as fairly equal, giving the Eagles only 2.5 or 3 points as a road underdog. NFL teams have a tendency to perform well the week after losing a head coach or key player but can struggle once the new norm is established. Despite trading Zach Ertz, the Eagles have not given up on this season and hope to right the ship in Las Vegas.
By pure performance, the Raiders have performed better than the Eagles so far this season. But when adjusted for opponent strength, the Eagles rank 17th overall and the Raiders rank 20th overall. Still, balancing true performance and relative performance, my baseline has the Raiders favored at home by a little over a field goal.
Baseline: LV by 4.13.
The LV Offense
The Raiders have not been able to run this year, but Derek Carr has kept them in games with big plays downfield. Carr is an underrated quarterback and, in particular, capitalizes against single coverage when opposing teams blitz. The Raiders use a lot of multiple tight end sets and even use a fullback to help offset the immediate impact of blitzes and this generally buys Carr just enough time to throw downfield to his talented receivers. His best games this season came against three of the most blitz-heavy teams in the league (Baltimore, Miami, and Denver) and a very banged up Steelers defense.
The Eagles do not like to blitz. They get natural pressure with their front four (albeit at a much lower rate without Brandon Graham), and flood the defensive backfield with players to reduce big plays. Carr will have to take the intermediate throws to Waller and Renfrow to move the ball consistently here. When the Raiders have to run their offense this way, they are simply not at their best. And they will get no help from the run game. Behind a bad offensive line, the Raiders have been unable to run all season. Outside of their game against Miami (who have one of the worst run defenses in the league), no running back has topped 53 yards in a game for the Raiders. They are 31st overall with a miserable 3.33 yards per carry. The Eagles should have no problem containing Jacobs and Drake.
The Eagles secondary is not elite, so Carr should be able to make some plays and keep drives alive. But they are just not built to grind out long drives with lots of first downs. And despite fairly average numbers, the Eagles defense has faced a murderer’s row of opposing offenses, including the Bucs, Chiefs, and Cowboys in three of the last four weeks. They completely shut down the only non-elite quarterback they have faced in the last four weeks and should be ready for Carr. I think the Raiders end up settling for too many field goals, punts, or fourth down attempts. It’s easy to underestimate Carr, who never seems to get the respect he deserves. But this not an ideal spot for him and this Raiders offense, particularly without Gruden to help orchestrate in-game adjustments.
Projection: LV offense will perform below expectation.
The PHI Offense
Let’s start with the trenches. The Eagles came into the season playing extremely well up front, manhandling the Falcons and even the 49ers in the first half of Week 2, before the injuries started to hit. Then Lane Johnson took some time off for a personal matter. Despite playing multiple games down several linemen, the Eagles are 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per play, in part because Hurts is great running the zone read. The Raiders defense is 25th in yards per carry allowed, and has not played a particularly difficult schedule of opposing running backs. In fact, they have faced some of the worst offensive lines in the league (PIT, MIA, CHI, DEN, BAL, LAC). Now the Eagles are getting Lane Johnson back, Mailata is healthy, and the Raiders are up against a tough test.
The Eagles can run the ball, but they haven’t been. I’m always wary about banking on strategic adjustments from coaches, but based on the Eagles’ fans reactions when they ran against Tampa Bay, the comments about running more, and just trusting that these coaches aren’t complete idiots, I expect them to run more here. Jalen Hurts is effective running the zone read and they should be able to benefit from offensive line strength and these outside runs to take the edge off the Raiders defense.
Casey Heyward has been an excellent addition to the Raiders’ secondary and they have slowed down opposing stud wide receivers this year. But the Eagles do not have an alpha receiver yet, and so this advantage is negated. Tight ends have performed well instead, so I expect the recently activated Dallas Goedert to be heavily involved. Using a strong ground game to chew up clock and set up easy reads for Hurts is a winning strategy if the Eagles can pull it off. They should be able to against what is an overrated defense.
Projection: PHI offense will exceed expectations.
The Game Flow
I don’t see a huge game flow advantage either way here. Derek Carr is a clutch quarterback. He makes a lot of plays when the game is tight or when his team is losing. But this Raiders team is not good enough at running the ball to press a lead against a feisty opponent. If the Eagles get behind, I expect them to stay aggressive. In other words, no lead is safe. But getting the underdog in those spots is usually favorable, because a lot of outcomes end up in the 1-3 point range. In fact, dating back to last season, the Raiders have ended regulation with a point differential of 2 or fewer in five of their last eight games (three went into overtime).
The Eagles get back on track here by controlling both sides of the trenches, and put away the Raiders 27-17. The Eagles set their season high for rushing yards and Jalen Hurts makes a couple of deep connections to his speedy wide receivers. Meanwhile, with no run game to lean back on and unable to capitalize on single-coverage, Carr is able to to move the ball somewhat but stalls too frequently in the red zone.
SharpClarke Members got my bet earlier this week: PHI +3 (-110) (1.5 Units) and PHI Moneyline (+140) (0.5 Units). We are on a roll with moneyline underdogs so let’s keep the streak alive! These lines have not moved much, so you can probably still get the same or similar odds and I would take PHI +3 up to -120 and the Moneyline up to +130.
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