Across the NFL, there aren’t many teams who need a win more than the Las Vegas Raiders and New York Giants do. Week 9 marks the halfway point of the season and the Raiders and Giants are both well below .500 as the calendar turns to November.
The good news for Las Vegas is DraftKings Sportsbook has the Silver and Black as slight favorites at home, but they’ll need to win the three key matchups below to avoid another embarrassment.
1) Andre James vs. Dexter Lawrence
The Giants made Dexter Lawrence a very rich man in the offseason with a four-year, $90 million contract extension, and for good reason. He’s been one of the best defensive tackles in the league over the last couple of seasons.
During the 2022 regular season, Lawrence tied Chris Jones as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defensive tackle with an elite 92.0 grade. He earned marks of 81.9 against the run and 92.4 as a pass-rusher and both were the best at the position. His 63 pressures ranked second behind Jones (77)—while logging 107 fewer pass-rush snaps—and his 38 defensive stops were tied for seventh.
This year, not much has changed. The 2019 17th overall pick has the highest overall PFF grade (92.4) among defensive tackles, ranks second in run defense (84.8) and first as a pass-rusher (92.4). Also, he’s racked up more pressures than anyone else—due in part to logging 15 last week against the Jets—leading second-place Aaron Donald by six and Jeffery Simmons, third-place, by 13. Oh, and Lawrence is also tied for sixth with 18 defensive stops.
Part of what makes those numbers above so jaw-dropping is he primarily lines up as a nose tackle, a position where production can be hard to come by. That means Andre James will probably have to have the best game of his career this Sunday.
James has been solid this year, allowing just 10 pressures and earning a 73.8 run-blocking grade from PFF. Granted, I think the latter is generous as the Raiders are only averaging about 3.0 yards per carry when running into the A-gaps.
But this will be an opportunity for James to prove his doubters wrong and the offense will need him to be at his best if they’re going to have any success on Sunday.
2) Tre’von Moehrig & Marcus Epps vs. Jalin Hyatt
If we’re being technical, this won’t be much of a one-on-one matchup since, as safeties, Tre’von Moehrig or Marcus Epps likely won’t be lined up across from wide receiver Jalin Hyatt much, if at all. However, the reason why this is a matchup to watch is because Hyatt can fly and take the top off of a defense.
At the NFL Combine, Hyatt ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash which was considered “underwhelming” for his standards and it was later revealed that he was dealing with hamstring tightness. Regardless, that’s an excellent time and it has been showing up on the field this season.
The Tennesee product only has nine catches on the year but has still managed to rack up 195 receiving yards. That’s an average of 21.7 yards per catch, which would rank second among all wide receivers if he had three more targets to qualify.
Diving into those numbers a little more, he’s hauled in four catches on eight deep targets and ranks 21st at the position with 164 yards on such passes. Hyatt has also been impressively efficient as a field stretcher, ranking 12th in yards per catch on deep balls (41.0) and 11th in yards per route run (20.5), according to PFF.
That’s going to put a lot of stress on Las Vegas’ safeties to prevent explosive plays. So far, both Moehrig and Epps have been solid in that role, but the latter did get caught out of position against the Steelers which played a factor in Pittsburgh scoring a 70-yard touchdown.
While the Giants’ offense is bad and the Raiders' defense should be able to shut them down, one explosive play could easily be the difference in the game. So, Moehrig and Epps will need to make sure they stay on top of Hyatt all afternoon.
3) Kolton Miller vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux
Last season, Kayvon Thibodeaux validated New York’s decision to make him a Top 5 pick by finishing fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year Award voting. He missed three games and still managed to rack up four sacks and 40 pressures during the regular season, and the latter ranked third among edge defenders in the draft class.
Year two has been more of the same for Thibodeaux. He already has more than doubled his sack count from last season with 8.5 and has 24 pressures, or three pressures per game which put him on pace for 51 to close out the year. Also, he’ll be coming into Sunday’s game on a hot streak, racking up 14 pressures and 4.5 sacks in the last three contests combined.
However, Las Vegas has a great counter in Kolton Miller.
Miller has been one of the league’s best offensive tackles in pass protection for a few years now and 2023 has been no different. He’s allowed just 11 pressures in eight games, including three shutouts. That ranks tied for 16th at the position and every player ahead of him has recorded fewer snaps in pass protection. Also, his 85.7 PFF pass-blocking grade is the second-best among all offensive tackles league-wide.
While Thibodeaux does spend time on both sides of the center, 57.6 percent of his snaps have come on the right compared to 41.3 percent on the left, so he and Miller will square off frequently this Sunday. And who wins that matchup will have a big impact on Las Vegas’ ability to throw the ball.