When the NFL schedule makers released the 2018 slate of games, it was clear that the football gods had looked upon the fans favorably as week one alone has been full of great contests, both in terms of game quality and some of the storylines heading into the games.
The same is the case for the week one finale, which pits a head coach who returns after a long absence from the game against last year’s coach of the year. It is the NFC West against its AFC counterpart, a playoff-ready team against one hoping to get there. It’s the Los Angeles Rams against the Oakland Raiders today (10.20pm ET Monday).
The Return of Jon Gruden
Last year, the Raiders, coming off a disappointing finish to their season in 2016, entered with some pretty high expectations. With Derek Carr back healthy, this team definitely had playoffs on the mind and potentially, and AFC West crown as well. They opened the season in full pursuit of this goal, with back-to-back victories in decisive fashion, but then lost five of their next seven, effectively taking those division-winning hopes off the table. After their bye in week 10, the Raiders returned to a blowout loss against the New England Patriots. They won their next two but then ended the season on their second four-game losing streak of the year.
Despite lofty expectations, the Raiders went just 6-10 and missed the playoffs. That necessitated a change. Jack Del Rio was replaced with Jon Gruden, who had previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001. From there, Gruden coached for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl in his first year with the team. Gruden coached the Bucs until 2008 and, when fired, he became a broadcaster for ESPN and Monday Night Football.
Ten years removed from his last head coaching job, the Gruden era in Oakland is about to begin its second chapter and fans are excited. Gruden, who signed a 10-year $100M contract, brings a fresh mindset and coaching experience that is going to be a little more high risk, high reward than his predecessor. Only time will tell if this is what the Raiders need, but right now, optimism is high for the new-old head coach. Even if the team did just trade away its best player on defense in Khalil Mack.
LA’s New Look Defense
While no one will understate the importance of good quarterback play and a good offensive unit, it is a good defense that often makes the biggest difference when it comes to crucial moments in games. For the Rams, who enter the season with Jared Goff at the QB position and Todd Gurley at the RB position, it’s not the offense this team had to worry about. That’s why they spent their money in the offseason, focusing on strengthening the defense.
With the additions of Ndamukong Suh to play alongside Aaron Donald, the Rams have one of the best defensive lines in football. Last year, Donald recorded 11 sacks, good enough for tied for seventh in the NFC. Robert Quinn, who is also a key member of the Rams’ line, had 8.5 followed by 5.5 from linebacker Matt Longacre and five from Connor Barwin. Add to those totals the 4.5 sacks from Suh, which is a low number historically across his career, and you have a really strong and formidable defense in LA.
That’s just on the line. Down the field, the Rams also made some pretty big moves. Joining Lamarcus Joyner and Mark Barron, who had three interceptions a piece last year, are Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Last year Peters was tied for fifth in the NFL with five interceptions. Talib had just the one, but he is generally a disrupter on defense.
Our Preview’s Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
The fun part about week one is that Gruden will be facing off against an old mentee of his in second-year head coach, Sean McVay. In his rookie season, McVay led the Rams to an NFC West title and was named the 2017 Coach of the Year. We will see if the student has surpassed the teacher or if Gruden still has some tricks up his sleeve he didn’t quite let McVay in on during their time together in Tampa Bay.
In addition to the first-time battle of head coaches, this game also pits two great defensive lines against each other. With Suh and Donald on one side and Edwards and a bevel of talented rookies on the other, this game very well could be won or lost in those trenches. If Suh and Edwards can get to Carr, it could be a long, painful night for the Raiders. If Oakland can stand strong and withstand the loss of Mack, who was one of the league’s sack leaders in 2017, and manage to get their own pressure on Goff, this should be a well fought battle.
Carr, if given time, has more than enough weapons and skill to pick apart LA’s defense but the same can be said for Goff, who showed great developmental strides last year. Goff and McVay are a great combo and with Gurley once again expected to top the rushing charts, this is definitely an offense to keep an eye on. If Carr and Goff can get the necessary protection up front, these two young quarterbacks could really make some noise in 2018.
The Rams are 4 to 4.5 point favorites with the best of the American sports betting websites. As the road team, LA has a tough task playing in the O.Co Coliseum. The atmosphere will be rambunctious especially with the new head coach in town. Here are our Los Angeles Rams vs Oakland Raiders predictions and betting picks:
- Oakland’s home field advantage could make a difference, as could Gruden coaching against his former coaching assistant. Take the Raiders +4.5pts @ -105 with Bovada, and that’s the best spread and odds available for that pick.
- As for the points total, our preview’s pick is to go over 47.5pts @ -110 with Bovada, 5Dimes and Intertops. Both teams are going to bring the heat out of the gate.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.