After getting eliminated from playoff contention last week, the Las Vegas Raiders will wrap up their 2022-23 season with their Week 18 matchup against AFC West foe, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders do have a chance to play spoiler as the conference-leading Chiefs are in a tight battle at the top of the AFC standings, which is also fairly complicated given the uncertainty of what the NFL will do surrounding Monday night’s Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game.
So, Kansas City has plenty to play for this Saturday and Las Vegas would love nothing more than to ruin its most-hated rival’s postseason plans. But the Silver and Black will need some major contributions from the young players below to make that happen, especially since they’re heading into the contest as heavy underdogs, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
At this time last week, Jarrett Stidham was flying under the radar and was seen as more of a stop-gap to get the Raiders through the last two games of the season after Derek Carr’s benching was announced. However, after lighting up one of the best defenses in the NFL for nearly 400 total yards and three touchdowns, Stidham now becomes a key fixture in the “quarterback of the future” conversation.
Being able to make plays out of structure has become a key talking point when evaluating quarterbacks nowadays, and that’s exactly what the Raiders’ new starter was able to do against the San Francisco 49ers. He picked up first downs with his feet and scrambled to keep plays alive, most notably finding Davante Adams for a 60-yard touchdown after taking a huge hit.
Jarrett Stidham! Davante Adams! Run it back.— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2023
: #SFvsLV on FOX
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Now it’s just a matter of how consistent Stidham can be, and how he plays given that he’s no longer “under the radar” and has captured the opposing defense’s attention. He’s set to become a free agent in the offseason, so another strong performance would not only make the four-year pro a viable starting quarterback candidate but also add a little extra jingle in his pocket.
Saturday will also bring an end to what’s been a very up-and-down first season for Dylan Parham. He’s had performances where he looks like someone who could be a starter for several years to come and others where he’s looked like a draft bust. Perhaps the best example of his volatile play comes from the last two games.
Against the Steelers, Parham recorded his lowest PFF grade of the season at 38.0 which ranked second to last among guards for the week. The following week, he turned it around with his highest single-game grade at 85.3 and that was good enough for third-best at the position.
While Parham won’t be able to stabilize his play in one game, what he can do is show growth by stringing together strong back-to-back performances — something he has yet to do this season — and by having more success as a pass protector.
Pass blocking held back the rookie’s overall grade against San Francisco as he earned a mark of 35.3 in that department compared to 92.3 as a run blocker. While the split isn’t as dramatic, that falls in line with the difference in his two grades for the entire season — 46.6 in pass protection and 67.9 as a run blocker.
So, that should be Parham’s focus this week, especially with Chris Jones coming to town. Jones currently leads all defensive tackles in pressures with 66 while ranking second with a 92.0 PFF pass-rush grade.
Anyone who has paid attention to my weekly Winners and Losers column over the last two months already knows how impressive Tyler Hall has been for the Silver and Black. After getting waived by the Rams early in the year, the Raiders added him to the practice squad about mid-October and injuries thrust him onto the active roster and eventually into the starting lineup.
But it’s not just that Hall has been available, he’s been a stud.
In six games and 132 coverage snaps, he’s allowed eight receptions on 17 targets (47.1 completion percentage) for 33 yards and no touchdowns while also picking up four pass breakups. That has resulted in an 88.4 coverage grade that ranks first among qualifying cornerbacks since Week 11 when he made his season debut.
The NFL journeyman may have found a home in Las Vegas and a strong performance against the high-powered Chiefs’ passing attack could help lead to an even bigger role next season. Plus, he’s only scheduled to make a little more than $1 million in 2023, so a good game on Saturday could also mean a raise is coming in the offseason.
With all of the injuries the Raiders have had a corner this season, Amik Robertson has stepped up and performed admirably. He’s tied for the most pass breakups and interceptions on the team with five and two, respectively, and leads Las Vegas’ cornerbacks (minimum 169 opportunities) with 12.4 coverage snaps per reception allowed.
However, as he starts to gear up for his fourth season and a pivotal contract year, admirable isn’t going to elevate his status from reserve to starter for the future. While the numbers above are great, Robertson needs to become more consistent to take that next step in his career.
He’s surrendered the second-most receiving yards on the team with 431 and is tied for the most touchdowns yielded with four. Also, the third-year pro has given up the second-highest yards per catch (13.9) and has the most missed tackles (eight) within the team’s secondary.
Robertson’s inconsistent play is holding him back from being a key piece of the Raiders’ defense moving forward, so it’s going to be important for him to show more stability. And a strong performance in the last game of the regular season against a potentent offense will be the best way for him to build momentum heading into a contract year.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Luke Masterson. He’s missed three tackles in two games, allowed eight catches on 10 targets for 56 yards and a touchdown, and has graded out as PFF’s worst linebacker (28.1). That’s not ideal for a guy who’s hoping to get more playing time in year two.
The Chiefs also present a tough test for linebackers with their running back duo of Isiah Pacheco and Jerrick McKinnon.
Pacheco took over as the lead rusher in Week 10 and since then, he’s tied with Christian McCaffrey for the sixth-most rushing yards in the league (569). Meanwhile, McKinnon has become a bigger part of Kansas City’s passing game and leads all running backs with 357 receiving yards, six more than McCaffrey who is in second place.
Again, that’s a tough assignment for any backer, let a lone someone who has been struggling recently.
However, Masterson has shown plenty of promise this season as well. In the two weeks before his rough patch, he ranked 19th at the position with a 75.2 grade from PFF and had only allowed 34 total receiving yards.
So, like just about everyone else mentioned, this Saturday will be about getting back on track and ending the campaign on a high note.