8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Lions -7.5, Over/Under: 46.5
Week Eight comes to a close in Motown, where the struggling Las Vegas Raiders look to get back on track against the Detroit Lions, who despite coming off an ugly loss of their own, nonetheless stand poised to place a stranglehold on the division. If you’re looking for coaches under pressure, then look no further than Las Vegas (3-4, 2nd in AFC West), where (Head Coach) Josh McDaniels appears to be sitting on a throne of flames. Prior to his hiring in 2022, the Raiders were an unlikely playoff team, though a playoff team all the same, as the side rallied down the stretch to win a number of close games following the shock resignation of (former HC) Jon Gruden. McDaniels (pictured below), who had spent a decade rehabbing his image in New England following an embarrassing stint as the Broncos leading man, was expected to elevate a veteran team with a wealth of premium offensive talent. However, that simply hasn’t come to pass for a variety of reasons as the Silver & Black have regressed mightily under his watch; last season, they finished 6-11 on the strength of blowing SIX double-digits leads, with an inept defense and an attack that faltered frequently within the red zone to blame. This past offseason, McDaniels and (General Manager) Dave Ziegler moved mountains to acquire familiar personnel from their days in Foxborough, including (veteran Quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo and (young Receiver) Jakobi Meyers. Continuity and familiarity were supposed to correct their flaws, but in a cruel twist of fate, this team looks even worse than they did a year ago. So, what in the name of Al Davis is going in Sin City, you ask? Through seven games, the offense has gone from finishing twelfth overall in both points and total yards to ranking in the league’s bottom tier in each category, averaging a mere 16.0 points (30th Overall) on 300.5 total yards per game (28th Overall), due in large part to the worst rushing attack in the NFL (41.4!) and a nauseating turnover differential of -10 (32nd Overall). Now, the crazy thing is that this is a team that has seen the vast majority of their salary cap invested on the offensive side of the football, including (All-Pros) Davante Adams and (2023 Rushing Champion) Josh Jacobs, with both players underperforming mightily thus far. Jacobs, who amassed a league-high 2,053 yards from scrimmage last Fall and accounted for nearly 35.0% of the team’s total yardage, has looked like a shell of himself, rushing for 347 yards on a career-low 2.9 yards per carry. Sure, the 25-year-old held out during training camp and preseason in search of a hefty raise, though his absence can only explain so much, as the Offensive Line has woefully underperformed, particularly the right side. Look no further than last weekend’s inexplicable 12-30 loss at the Bears, who were starting a Division II QB (Tyson Bagent) for the very first time of his career. Now, this affair had all the makings of a classic Raiders trap game; Las Vegas was coming off back-to-back wins with an opportunity to get over .500 during the softer part of their schedule, facing a struggling opponent beset by injuries all over the offense. What could go wrong? Well, everything apparently went wrong, folks, as this one was never close; the visitors could muster just 235 total yards and possessed the football for a scant 25:04 of game time, while (journeyman QB) Brian Hoyer, making his first start since 2016 in place of an injured Garoppolo, floundered in completing 17-of-32 passes for 129 yards and a pair of interceptions, before eventually being replaced by (Rookie QB) Aidan O’Connell, who threw a touchdown to Meyers, but was also picked off on his first drive of the afternoon. Again, the ground game was nonexistent, logging just thirty-nine yards on fourteen attempts, with Jacobs accounting for thirty-five yards on eleven carries. Defensively, the visiting side couldn’t get Bagent & Co off the field, relinquishing 8-of-13 third downs and an efficient 21-of-29 passing for 162 yards and a score. (Defensive Coordinator) Patrick Graham’s unit sacked Bagent twice but only pressured him three times, while getting trampled against the run to the tune of 173 yards on thirty-eight attempts. The loss was McDaniels’ thirty-second of his career and fifteenth in twenty-four games with the Raiders, which has the 47-year-old sitting in a very precarious position as we reach the midway point of the campaign. Though his team sits just a game under .500 and is still very much in the discussion of fringe playoff teams, they simply don’t pass the eye test, appearing much farther away from anything that could be defined as in contention and much closer to selecting early in the NFL Draft once again.
From a betting perspective, the Raiders are both 3-4 straight-up and against the spread thus far, with all three of their victories also being covers. After winning and covering the line in back-to-back games for the first time since late November, Las Vegas underperformed mightily in that loss at Chicago last weekend, losing by EIGHTEEN points despite being a 2.5-point road favorite. Dating back to last season, this team is 11-14 against the spread under McDaniels’ leadership, including a 4-6 mark in that regard over their last ten outings, though have proven particularly poor away from Allegiant Stadium, where they have failed to cover SEVEN of their last ten road tilts. The Silver & Black opened this season with an outright win at Denver, only to drop each of their last three contests away from Sin City. Furthermore, this is also a team that has found it difficult to rebound from a poor offensive performance, which is the case tonight, covering just one of their past six outings after being held below 250 total yards. Looking at this particular matchup, these teams don’t meet very often, with just five encounters since the turn of the century. The most recent affair came back in 2019, when the Raiders held on for a 31-24 victory in Vegas, in which the running game dominated with 171 yards on thirty-six carries, led by Jacobs with 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns on twenty-eight attempts. As for Garoppolo, the veteran is 2-0 all-time against Detroit, completing 68.6% of his passes for an average of 260.0 yards on 9.05 net yards per attempt, with three touchdowns and a lost fumble. On the injury front, (veteran Cornerback) Brandon Facyson is on injured reserve with an ailing shin, while the list of questionables is far from light; (Cornerbacks) Jakorian Bennett (shoulder), Marcus Peters (back), and Nate Hobbs (ankle), along with (Linebacker) Divine Deablo (ankle) and (young Kicker) Daniel Carlson (groin) are all at risk. However, the news isn’t all doom and gloom for McDaniels & Co, for after missing last weekend’s trip to the Windy City, Garoppolo is expected to start tonight. Looking ahead, the trade deadline is tomorrow, and Las Vegas has made it clear that they are in the market for reinforcements, though the name that keeps circulating is that of (veteran Receiver) Hunter Renfrow. Two years removed from a 100-catch/1,000-yard campaign, Renfrow has been nearly phased out of McDaniels’ offense altogether, hauling in just eight receptions on twelve targets for seventy-three yards thus far. With clear needs along the Offensive Line and all over the defense, the former Clemson Tiger could prove to be a bargaining chip over the next twenty-four hours.
Meanwhile, the Lions (5-2, 1st in NFC North) are also coming off a disappointing loss, though nonetheless are headed in a polar opposite direction in comparison to their opponent tonight. With roughly half of the season in the books, Detroit is clearly the favorite to win their division, particularly given the injury situations of Chicago and Minnesota, with the latter losing their Quarterback, Kirk Cousins, for the remainder of the campaign with a torn Achilles. With that in mind, (Head Coach) Dan Campbell & Co should be licking their chops in preparation of widening their lead in the North, which figures to increase given the relative (lack of) strength of schedule (much more on that in a bit). Over the past three seasons, few teams have made the kind of progress that these cats have, for it feels like a lifetime ago when they began the Campbell era winless through eleven games. This group finished strong last Fall, winning eight of their final ten contests and narrowly missing the playoffs, though they did manage to play spoiler to their bitter rivals, the Packers, eliminating them from postseason passage in Aaron Rodgers’ last game with the franchise. This year, Campbell and (General Manager) Brad Holmes are reaping the benefits of their hard work, with the Lions off to their best start since 2014, with an eye on their first division crown in THIRTY years. Offensively, they rank eighth in scoring (24.9) and fourth in total yards (390.1) behind a balanced approach from (Offensive Coordinator) Ben Johnson, which has really opened up the entire playbook for a unit possessing a plethora of weapons. (Veteran Quarterback) Jared Goff is really enjoying this second act of his career, posting career-highs in completion percentage (68.0%) and QBR (67.1), airing it out downfield, with much of his success coming via play-action. The 29-year-old has completed 76.36% of his throws on a healthy 8.94 net yards per attempt and four touchdowns thus far when using the play-fake, which ranks among the league’s best. Of course, Goff (pictured below) has developed a strong rapport with many members of his Receiving Corps, none more so than (Pro-Bowler) Amon-Ra St. Brown, who despite missing time due to injury has reeled in fifty-one receptions for 557 yards and three scores. Despite getting hammered in last weekend’s 6-38 loss at Baltimore, St. Brown nonetheless was sublime, totaling 102 yards on twelve receptions, while Goff attempted FIFTY-THREE passes to amass 284 yards on thirty-three completions. The former number one overall pick was sacked five times and was intercepted once, though that doesn’t mean that the team’s young playmakers didn’t make their presence felt. (Rookies) Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta were impressive in defeat, with the former amassing 127 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the first start of his career, while the latter continued to look like a steal with six catches for fifty-two yards. Unfortunately, it was the defense that struggled mightily in this matchup with the Ravens, shipping 503 yards of total offense, including 393 total yards and FOUR touchdowns to Lamar Jackson. To give you an idea of what kind of day it was for the visitors, they only defended EIGHT third downs on the afternoon, which goes to show how little difficulty the hosts had in moving the football up and down the field. Granted, there were a number of injuries on a unit that has made strides this Fall, ranking tenth overall in total defense (316.9) a year after giving up the most yards in the NFL. Where (Defensive Coordinator) Aaron Glenn’s troops have really thrived has been against the run, where they have relegated opponents to just 76.3 yards per game (2nd Overall) on 3.7 yards per carry (7th Overall), with that performance against the blackbirds marking the first time all season that they relinquished 100+ rushing yards. Given the Raiders’ utter ineptitude in this department, we should see the Lions get back to shutting down the run, though it remains to be seen if they will be able patch up the holes that keep springing in their Secondary…
From a betting perspective, the Lions are both 5-2 straight-up and against the spread thus far, though have seen their string of four consecutive wins/covers come to an end with last weekend’s ugly loss at the Ravens. Dating back to last season, Detroit has been one of the best bets in the NFL, covering a staggering FOURTEEN of their last seventeen games! During that period, they are 7-3 against the spread in their last ten contests overall, including identical marks in that regard in their past ten tilts at Ford Field and as a favorite. Furthermore, Campbell’s troops come into this matchup riding a streak four consecutive covers when favored by the oddsmakers, while covering four straight outings against opponents with a losing road record, which as we detailed earlier is absolutely the case tonight. This is also a team that proven to be a solid bet coming off a loss, as these cats have covered four games in a row following a straight-up defeat. Looking at this particular matchup, we detailed how infrequently these teams face off with each other, though the Lions have won and covered each of the last two meetings in Motown (2015 & 2003). Since that aforementioned encounter in 2019, Campbell and Holmes have all but turned the roster over completely, with very few personnel left from those dark days in Detroit. However, Goff has faced the Raiders before in what was ironically a Monday Night Football game from his tenure with the Rams. The veteran QB completed 18-of-33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a comfortable 33-13 season opener in Oakland five years ago. On the injury front, this is a team that is dealing with a plethora of bumps and bruises, which has taxed their depth in recent weeks. (Defensive Backs) C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pectoral muscle) and Emmanuel Moseley (ACL) are both languishing on Injured Reserve, while (veteran Tailback) David Montgomery is out indefinitely with ailing ribs, while (Defensive End) James Houston is likely to be sidelined for two more weeks with a high ankle sprain. With that being said, there are other notables to mention, including (Starting Offensive Linemen) Jonah Jackson (ankle), Halapoulivaati Vatai (back), and Frank Ragnow (toe) are all listed as questionable, while (Linebacker) Malcolm Rodriguez (ankle), (Safety) Kerby Joseph (concussion), and even St. Brown, who was a late edition to the injury list with an illness, are all at risk. Looking ahead, the bye week couldn’t come at a better time for these Lions, who could really use the week off to rest up, before embarking on one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league; of their final nine opponents, only one (Dallas) currently has a winning record, with those teams posting a combined win percentage of .460.