I’ve seen it said that the Raiders need “a win and a ton of help” in order to reach the playoffs, but they actually don’t need that many things to go right in order to sneak in. The first step, of course, is that they need to win. The next step is that the Titans and Steelers need to lose. The third step is that the Colts need to win. (There is also a fourth step, but it’s massively likely, as the Raiders just need one win to emerge from a group of several other teams that are likely to win.) The Colts are likely to handle business against the Jags; and while Vegas isn’t buying the Texans’ talk about playing their starters and trying to win (the Titans have been installed as 3.5 point favorites on the road), the Raiders have every reason to believe Houston can pull off that one. That leaves the poor Pittsburgh offense taking on a half-starters squad from Baltimore in what should be a close game. Point being: if you’re a Raiders player, you feel you have a legitimate shot. The Broncos have continued to play hard themselves, and we should see a fairly standard setup here.
The Matchup ::
- Jon Gruden believes that a quality offense is built from the ground up — with his scheme based around a physical run game and pass plays that branch off of that; in following this belief, the Raiders have run the ball at the eighth highest rate in the league, while playing at the third slowest pace and calling on Derek Carr to top 31 pass attempts in only five of 15 games
- Derek Carr has not thrown for 300 yards in a game this season, and he has topped two touchdown passes only once, while throwing one or zero touchdown passes nine times
- Vic Fangio’s Broncos have allowed the seventh fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, while giving up the sixth fewest passing yards and the fifth fewest wide receiver receptions
- The Broncos have allowed only two running backs to top 100 yards against them, and neither of those backs managed to score a touchdown
- The only way to consistently move the ball against the Broncos has been through tight ends, where they have allowed the sixth most receptions and the eighth most yards
- Darren Waller owns 26.93% of the air yards on the Raiders this year, and has seen seven or more targets in over half his games
- The Raiders’ pass defense is boosting aDOT by 13.9%, and no team has allowed more yards per pass attempt
- Courtland Sutton leads the NFL in percentage share of team air yards at 42.57% (just in front of Stefon Diggs and Michael Thomas), and he has only two games all season under seven targets (while seeing double-digit looks for the first two times all year in his last two games)
- Sutton’s still-developing connection with Drew Lock has led to only nine catches for 120 yards and no touchdowns on these 20 looks the last two weeks
- When the Raiders and Broncos met in Week 1, Sutton went 7-120-0 on eight looks
- Only Derek Carr, the Saints’ quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Joe Flacco have a shorter average intended air yards than Drew Lock this year
The Game ::
The Raiders have been a difficult team to pull elite fantasy production from this year, with a high-priced lead back in Josh Jacobs who has only a small role in the pass game, and with a low-volume passing attack that continues to lean on the run in the red zone. Fifteen games into the season, Oakland has produced only three games in which a pass catcher has topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown (with Tyrell Williams grabbing the first of these games — way back in Week 1 against this same Broncos team — followed by a mid-season smash by Darren Waller and last week’s game from Hunter Renfrow), and this week they will take on a Broncos team that has allowed only four pass catchers to top even 80 yards and score a touchdown.
On the other side of this game, we’ll have a Broncos team that has produced some nice fantasy games this year (almost entirely through Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton — though Noah Fant has chipped in a couple times with yards after the catch, and Emmanuel Sanders was pitching in some high-end efforts early in the year), but that has been inconsistent due to conservative play-calling (and poor play sequencing) and inconsistent quarterback play.
We’ll start on the Raiders’ side here, where Jon Gruden’s squad will open this game looking to control things on the ground — with Jacobs tentatively expected to return, and with DeAndre Washington (touch counts of 20 // 25 in the games Jacobs has missed) set to fill in again if Jacobs is out. This is not a great matchup for the Raiders’ run game, with the Broncos allowing only 3.96 yards per carry to running backs, and more importantly allowing only 2.6 yards per carry on runs to the outside (both to the left and the right) when we remove the random blowup game that Leonard Fournette had against them earlier in the year. The Raiders’ run scheme (in fact, their entire offense) is built off of runs to the outside, where Jacobs has been most dominant — averaging 5.3 yards per carry to the left and 5.9 yards per carry to the right.
This creates an interesting setup, as neither of these teams are trying to “score points” so much as they are trying to “find a way to win” — and if the Raiders are unable to exert their will on the ground and the Broncos remain inconsistent on offense themselves, this game could land…well, right about where Vegas expects it to land — with an Over/Under of 41.0, and with the Broncos projected to win by 3.5. The Raiders’ rushing attack (regardless of who finds himself starting) would be more of a “bet on volume” play than anything else (with only a few thin paths available to a big game), while the Raiders’ passing attack would remain fairly low-volume, requiring something to go really right in order for useful fantasy production to emerge.
The Broncos’ side is a bit more clear in this likeliest scenario, as things really don’t change much for them in any scenario: Lindsay (recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20 // 18 // 7 // 21) would be the main engine for this team on the ground against an above-average Raiders run defense (3.91 yards per carry allowed to running backs; the ninth fewest running back rushing yards allowed), while Courtland Sutton (recent target counts of 8 // 9 // 8 // 5 // 7 // 10 // 10 — but yardage totals in this stretch of only 56 // 113 // 27 // 74 // 34 // 79 // 41) would be the engine of this passing attack in one of the better spots in the league for wide receiver production. Behind these guys, Noah Fant (four straight games of four or fewer targets), Tim Patrick (only one game over 50 yards), DaeSean Hamilton (only two games over 36 yards), and Royce Freeman (11 or fewer touches in seven consecutive games) would be merely dart throws.
If wanting to bet on the Raiders in this spot (with a Vegas-implied team total of only 18.75), your best paths to capturing a score that could set you apart in tourneys are to A) bet on Oakland dominating this game and pouring production onto the scoreboard and into the stat sheet through the run game, or B) bet on Denver jumping out to a lead through Lindsay or Sutton, with the Raiders picking up something through the air in response. The matchup (as noted in the Matchup section above) would point us to the tight end position in this second setup — though things do get further complicated here by the return of our boy Hunter Renfrow, who has put a dent into Waller’s targets whenever healthy and handling the slot. Waller should be considered a “thin, but viable” bet if chasing this second setup, while Tyrell and Renfrow should be considered merely “thin, and hoping for the best” against a Denver defense that has given up the fifth fewest receptions and the seventh fewest yards to wideouts.
Regardless of the scenarios being chased on the Oakland side, Lindsay (sporting a shiny price bump off his strong game last week) is always a low-floor bet in this offense, while his ceiling remains decent; Sutton is a “bet on talent and matchup, and hope quarterback play cooperates” option.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I don’t expect to go to the Oakland side myself this week — even if Jacobs is out — as this Raiders offense is just not all that explosive, and the matchup in Denver is not all that easy. There are some setups in which a Raiders piece could hit, but I’ll gladly take my chips off the table after grabbing 67% Washington and 33% Renfrow last week, and will let others chase those scores this week. There are just likelier spots to bet on than this.
I also won’t be heavy on the Denver side, though I could see taking a couple swings on Sutton, as his upside is high enough, the matchup is good enough, and the role is big enough that I may decide I want some exposure even if his “likeliest outcome” in this offense isn’t a huge game. Sutton is usually able to produce at least an acceptable score even when he misses, and his chances of landing on a ceiling game are high enough that he could become a mix-in piece on my builds.
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