The starting point for this matchup between the low-wattage Raiders and the run-centric Vikings is this:
It is unlikely the Raiders can move the ball well against the Vikings’ top-end defense; and the Vikings are not going to get aggressive these days unless they are forced into this approach. This doesn’t preclude any individual pieces in this game from being able to post a good score; but this is unlikely to develop into a good game environment.
The next stopping point on our journey through this game is to point out that Dalvin Cook is being treated like a borderline-workhorse at the moment, with a 70.3% snap share on the season, and with the offense largely centered around what he provides. More important to us than the snap count should be Cook’s touches, which have hit 23 in each game on the young season. While a blowout, in most cases, wouldn’t mean that Cook suddenly spikes to 27+ touches (the Vikings are perfectly happy to give Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah their share of snaps, and they would, wisely, be perfectly happy to let these two grind out the end of a blowout rather than add strain to Cook’s body), but we have seen already this year what he can do on 23 touches.
With that said…
The Raiders run defense — led by Johnathan Hankins, PJ Hall, Tahir Whitehead, and Vontaze Burfict — has been a solid unit so far this year, ranking fourth in early-season DVOA and allowing only 3.12 yards per carry to the typically-strong run games of the Broncos and Chiefs. Can the Raiders still prove to be a fluke? Or could Cook still bust a big play (or two)? Absolutely. But we should enter this game considering the matchup to be tougher-than-usual.
The Vikings passing attack has disappointed from all angles thus far; but Kirk Cousins was really only given one chance to play, and that was on the road against the stout defense of the Packers. There aren’t many viable scenarios in this game in which the Vikings would go pass-heavy; but there is a chance that the Raiders can slow down the run enough to push the Vikings to a more balanced approach. Adam Thielen (as we have repeated ad nauseum since the middle of last year) needs volume in order to support his price tag; and ever since this offense changed (and pricing and ownership failed to change with it), it has been -EV to try to guess on a random big game from him. But if you wanted to hope for the Vikings to go “balanced,” Stefon Diggs does still have the talent to pop off for a big game on only six to eight targets; and as he enters this game with only three receptions on the year, you can make a safe bet that no one will be on him.
On the other side of this game, there is really just nothing for Minnesota to be too scared about through the air. Tyrell Williams doesn’t have the route-running nuance to be a comfortable play against Xavier Rhodes, and the Vikings are perennially a tougher matchup for tight ends. Furthermore, this is a test for the Raiders’ revamped offensive line against a Vikings squad that finished tied with the Bears last year for third in the league in sacks. A bet on the Raiders passing attack is a bet on some unpredictable coverage breakdowns on a week in which the field will likely move off this team.
This quiet, largely-unattractive game wraps up with Josh Jacobs, who has a difficult-but-not-impossible matchup against a Vikings team that allowed 4.03 yards per carry to backs last year; though Jacobs is proving to be touchdown dependent, and the Raiders don’t project for many touchdowns in this spot. If Jacobs plays this week, he’s a closed-eyes, dart-throw play. If he misses, an unattractive timeshare will develop behind him on a week in which there is plenty of high-quality value to like in other spots on the slate.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It’s easy to see why the Over/Under in this game is only 43.5, and it’s tough to get too excited about anything, even with the Vikings earning a Vegas-implied team total of 25.75. The factors in this game all line up for Cook to be the engine of the Vikings’ offense, and he’s a strong, by-the-book play if you want to fade the Raiders’ early-season success against the run. (Alternately, you could say that at his now-higher price, he doesn’t really become a “must have” unless he posts the sort of game Christian McCaffrey posted in Week 1; and as such, you could trust that the Raiders are better at this than people think they are, and recognize that you’re probably not taking on too much risk even if you’re wrong, as you can still make up for another strong game from Cook by allocating that salary in other ways.)
Outside of all that, this game is pretty thin. I like the idea of a few Diggs shots in MME play, but outside of some looks at the Vikings defense, this is a spot I’ll largely stay away from myself.