The AFC playoff standings are a jumbled mess where the top and bottom seeds are only two games apart from each other, and the Raiders are slotted 10th but are only a game back from the four-way tie for the three wild card spots. Las Vegas is also +550 to make the tournament, the 12th-best odds league-wide on DraftKings Sportsbook.
A win as one-point favorites against the Denver Broncos this weekend would also boost the Silver and Black’s chances. The Raiders will need to get contributions from some of the younger players to make that happen, however.
It feels like we’ve been waiting weeks for Bryan Edwards’ next big performance. In the five games since Week 10, when he caught 3 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, Edwards has only managed nine grabs for 74 yards and one score.
Consistency hasn’t been his strong suit this season as he’s eclipsed the 50-yard mark in just four contests and has had four outings with 10 or fewer yards. The Raiders are going to need to see some more stable play from the young wideout moving forward and the good news is, one of his better games on the campaign came against the Broncos in Week 6.
Edwards hauled in two passes for 67 yards and a touchown in Denver. His 33.5 yards per catch average was bolstered by a 51-yard grab, which Las Vegas could certainly use this time around as their downfield passing attack has been rather lackluster of late. Also, Henry Ruggs played a big role in the previous meeting that the offense will have to replace.
However, Edwards’ success didn’t come against the Brocnos’ standout rookie cornerback, Patrick Surtain. The two times second-year pro was targeted with the rookie in coverage resulted in incompletions with the rookie coming up with a pass breakup on one of the targets.
I’d imagine those two will line up across from each other even more frequently this time with Ruggs out of the equation and Waller potentially out again. Surtain has been excellent this season with 10 combined interceptions and pass breakups to just three touchdowns allowed, while also boasting the 11th-best passer rating when targeted among corners (64.9).
So, Edwards has a his work cutout for him and he needs to prove that he can be a consistent producer moving forward.
Alright, I’ll get this out of the way before I dive into the details. Last week I listed Tyron Johnson as a potential X-factor, only for him to play in three plays, all of which were running plays...
But, I think we can all agree after watching DeSean Jackson struggle to produce once again, that I was right and Johnson should have received more opportunities...or at least that’s what I’m going with as my justification for listing him again.
I talked about this in my winners and losers column, it’s time for the Raiders to move on from the DJax experience or at the very least, give someone else more opportunities and reduce the 35-year-old’s role. Aside from one game against the Cowboys, he’s had more negative plays than positive ones and it just makes more sense to give a guy like Johnson those reps.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old wideout can be the deep threat the team has been looking for but the only way to know for certain is to throw him into the fire and see what happens. That will not only give the organization’s decision-makers an opportunity to see what they have in the speed demon, but also bring an element to the Raiders offense that was instrumental to beating the Broncos the first time around, a vertical passing threat.
Nate Hobbs/Keisean Nixon
I’m going to cheat on this one and list both slot corners since I’m not sure what Hobbs’ status will be for this Sunday since he landed on the COVID list Monday. Luckily, both him and Keisean Nixon are young players to keep an eye on and whoever is out there will draw a tough assignment, Jerry Jeudy.
Jeudy was on the shelf for the last go around but this weekend will be his eighth game back from injury. Granted, he hasn’t been very productive with only 305 yards and no touchdowns since returning to action, but the Alabama product is a shifty route runner who Las Vegas has struggled to cover in the past.
Last season, Jeudy had nine catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Silver and Black. He was targeted one time with Nixon in coverage, the only coverage defender from last season that will be playing on Sunday, and the wideout burned the defensive back for a 25-yard gain.
However, Nixon is coming of a career game this time around.
The three-year veteran allowed just 17 yards in coverage against the Browns and finished the week as Pro Football Focus’ 13th-highest graded corner with a 81.6 mark, 17.2 points more than his previous single-game high. Nixon is fighting for his future with the Raiders so a strong performance against a young pass-catcher in the division that’s given the team trouble in the past could go a long way.
Then again, if Hobbs clears protocol in time I’d expect him to take the snaps in the slot. The rookie is firmly cemented in the team’s future plans, as he currently ranks second among inside corners with just 0.82 yards per coverage snap allowed, but he’ll have the same goal as Nixon on Sunday. Prove to the organization that he can be a shutdown nickel by removing a top target from their rival’s game plan.
The last month or so has been a roller coaster for Alex Leatherwood, especially in pass protection.
Four games ago, he set a career/season-high with a 82.5 PFF pass blocking grade and only allowed two pressures, but then those figures dipped down to 45.0 and three the following week before bottoming out at 0.0 and nine agains the Chiefs, and rapidly reaching a new peak this past week with an 84.0 grade and 0 pressures surrendered.
Ever since he was drafted that’s been the biggest area of concern and, as you can see, the results have been rather volatile. Regardless of what position the rookie plays moving forward, Las Vegas needs him to steady the ship and that could be difficult this weekend.
Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones has put together a breakout campaign for Denver this season. He ranks tied for 14th at the position with 36 pressures and is tied for 10th with a 15.7 percent win rate as a rusher. Jones was able to beat Leatherwood for a couple of hurries in Week 6, but that’s a pretty neutral outing for both players so Sunday will be a rubber match of sorts.
Granted, Jones might not play seeing as he missed last week with an injury but even if he can’t go, backup DeShawn Williams has 14 pressures and a 70.4 pass rush grade to his name in limited action this season. Long story short, Leatherwood will have his handsful trying to build on the momentum from his performance last week.
Divine Deablo is another repeat X-factor from last week. So far, he’s answered the call over the last three games and has emerged as a strong run defender.
Deablo is tied for 14th among linebackers with six run stops during that time frame and boasts a 10 percent run stop rate, good enough to tie for 17th at the position. But the cherry on top of all that is his 84.0 run defense grade is fourth-best at the position and among the likes of Darius Leonard (1st), Fred Warner (3rd) and Lavonte David (5th).
The rookie’s prowess against the run should come in handy on Sunday as the Broncos have an impressive two-headed monster at running back, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams. Gordon has toted the rock 174 times for 769 yards and seven touchdowns while Williams has 170 carries for 815 yards and three scores, combining for nearly 1,600 yards and 4.6 yards per rush. Especially with backup quarterback Drew Lock starting, I’d expect Denver’s offense to go through those two, meaning Deablo needs to bring his “A-game”.
In coverage, the Virginia Tech product hasn’t been quit as strong. He allowed nine of nine targets to go for completions and 83 yards in his first two games, but he is coming off a shutdown performance in Cleveland where he wasn’t thrown at.
The Broncos will be able to test Deablo in this area as well. Williams has pulled in 38 receptions for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam are two of the fastest in the league and been productive in their own right. Fant has 58 catches, 532 yards and three scores on the year, and Okwuegbunam has 31, 325 and two, with over half of his production coming in the last five games.
So, this Sunday might be the rookie linebacker’s biggest test yet.