Here’s a preview of Monday night’s matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders, courtesy of STAT Stack:
Baltimore Ravens (-4.0) at Las Vegas Raiders (O/U 50.0), 8:15 pm ET
THREE THINGS THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW
Where’s The Run Gonna Come From?
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens led the NFL in rushing for the second straight year. J.K. Dobbins (805), Gus Edwards (723), Mark Ingram (299) and Justice Hill (60) accounted for 1,887 of the team’s 3,071 yards on the ground (61.5 percent). Ingram is now a Houston Texan and Dobbins, Edwards and Hill are all out for the season with knee injuries. The newcomers for the Ravens — Le’Veon Bell (254), Devonta Freeman (172) and Latavius Murray (656) — ran for a combined 1,082 yards with other teams in 2020; that was just 77 more yards than Lamar Jackson (1,005) this past season. But for Week 1, none of those guys will even draw the start for the Ravens: that honor is likely to go to second-year UDFA Ty’son Williams. Williams was with the Ravens in 2020 but spent almost the entire season on the practice squad and did not record any carries. Despite being only a second-year player, Williams is 25-years-old and played for three different colleges: North Carolina, South Carolina, and BYU. Williams’ highest rushing total in any college season was 471 yards in 2017, as a sophomore for South Carolina.
It’s Not How You Start…
The Raiders have had their issues the last two years closing out seasons, and in 2020, really struggled to put away games. Jon Gruden’s team opened 6-4 in ’19 and finished with a 7-9 record. Last season, a 6-3 start resulted in an 8-8 campaign. Las Vegas gave up the third-most points in the NFL in ’20 (ahead of only Jacksonville and Detroit), including an NFL-high 182 points in the fourth quarter and OT.
Raiders’ QB Derek Carr has faced his share of criticism over his first seven NFL seasons. The 2014 second-round pick has started 110 games for the Raiders and while the team hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2016, Carr has been consistently improving under Gruden. In his first 4 seasons, Carr had a 61.4% completion rate, threw for 103 TDs and 44 picks. His INT percentage (2.0%), yards per attempt (6.5) and yards per completion (10.7) were all slightly above league-average. The past three years, his completion rate has risen to 68.9%, while tossing 67 scores and 27 interceptions. And, his INT percentage (1.7%), yards per attempt (7.7) and yards per completion (11.2) have all improved. More information on why Carr is better than you think can be found in the analytics section of this post.
TOP TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW
Baltimore has played 12 regular season games as a road favorite with Jackson under center and the team is 8-2-2 against-the-spread in those contests. Conversely, in their last 7 games as a home underdog, the Raiders have lost 6 of those games by an average of 10.8 points. In addition, the Ravens have covered five-straight Week 1 games, dating back to 2016, and Baltimore was favored in all five games.
Line Movement — The Injury Effect
This line opened at Raiders +5 but has slid in their favor by a point to +4. Likely, this is due to the swath of injuries that the Ravens have suffered; as noted above, they lost their top 3 running backs for the season. But they also lost starting CB Marcus Peters for the season, while another CB, Jimmy Smith, is questionable for this game. Despite the injuries, the public is still backing Baltimore: 56% of the bets are on Baltimore, as is 70% of the money, according to Action Network, who has also tracked sharp action (professional bettors) on the road favorites.
ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW
That Carr Has Some Horsepower
Earlier in the post, we talked about the improvements Carr has made under Gruden. But a true sports nerd might have been thinking “so he increased his completion percentage, yards per attempt, etc … but he did that by dinking-and-dunking his way down the field.” Perfectly reasonable thought — but incorrect. According to the Next Gen Stats, Carr was 24 for 52 (46.2%) for 968 yards, 10 TD and 1 INT, and a 124.2 passer rating on deep balls in 2020 (balls that traveled at least 20 yards, in the air, past the line of scrimmage). His CPOE (completion percentage over expected) was +14.5, meaning that he completed 14.5% more passes than the average NFL QB would have, if he had attempted the same throws. Carr was second in the NFL in expected points added on deep passes at 60.2. Those are impressive numbers that rank among the best QBs in the entire NFL, but they don’t even tell the whole story. Less you think Carr is sitting back in a clean pocket and firing bombs down the field, his numbers against the rush paint an even stronger picture in his favor. He led the NFL with 11 completions, 426 passing yards and 6 TDs in deep balls thrown against the blitz, according to NFL.com’s Nick Shook.
The bad news for Carr? His best deep threat last season was Nelson Agholor, who was second in the NFL (behind Tyreek Hill) with 6 deep TD catches last season. The good news? 2020 first round pick Henry Ruggs III should be better in year 2, especially after his GM Mike Mayock publicly stated that he must get better, and they should expect better production out of another 2020 pick, third rounder Bryan Edwards, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2020 season.
All told, Carr has the tools to be a top-tier NFL QB, and while most football players start to decline at age 30, quarterback is a position where that age doesn’t mean the end. In fact, three of the past five NFL MVPs were quarterbacks who were over the age of 30 (Brady, Rodgers and Matt Ryan). This post is not to suggest that Carr is going to be the NFL MVP this season — it’s just to point out that he may be closer to that level than he is to needing to be replaced.
This preview was originally published by STAT Stack, a division of STAT Factor. STAT Stack is an email newsletter that provides the most important information on the biggest games in sports. To subscribe to STAT Stack, click here.