We’ve been waiting about eight months for some Las Vegas Raiders football and the season opener is finally here! The Raiders enter Week 1 with a tough divisional game as road underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook against the Denver Broncos.
These two teams finished at the bottom of the AFC West last season but both underwent some significant changes during the offseason, as a handful of those moves are reflected in this week’s key matchups.
Davante Adams vs. Pat Surtain II
This is probably one of the most exciting one-on-one battles in the entire league this weekend as it pits an established superstar against a rising star. Last year was the first time Davante Adams and Pat Surtain II squared off, and Adams got the best of Surtain II with nine catches on 14 targets for 139 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.
The most notable grab came during the Week 11 contest where the wideout broke loose from the cornerback in overtime for an easy 35-yard walk-off score to win the game.
Surtain II struggled against Adams last year as those two contests accounted for 33.3 percent of the total yards and 50 percent of the touchdowns he allowed during the entire season. However, that also means the cornerback was pretty sharp against just about everyone else he faced as he did finish 2022 as PFF’s second-highest-graded corner in coverage (86.7).
This is a matchup that pits two first-team All-Pros against each other and some retribution is on the line.
Robert Spillane vs. Javonte Williams
One of the changes offensively for Denver that new head coach Sean Payton has been vocal about is a commitment to the running game. “[Running the ball is] going to be important to what we do as long as I’m here,” Payton told reporters at the beginning of training camp, via Broncos Wire. “I just think it’s that important to winning in our league.”
That likely means the Raiders can expect to see quite a bit of running back Javonte Williams this weekend. Williams’ stat line from last season wasn’t impressive as he rushed for just 204 yards and had zero touchdowns. But he did average 4.3 yards per rush and was splitting carries before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Las Vegas which kept him to four games.
The back also proved to be tough to take down as he forced 16 missed tackles as a rusher, tied for the fifth-most among running backs during the first month of the season, and he posted a 116.3 elusive rating, per PFF. The latter was also a top-five mark and 1.8 points higher than Josh Jacobs’ mark during that timeframe for comparison’s sake.
That’s where Las Vegas’ free agent signing Robert Spillane comes in as he’s built a solid reputation as a run defender. With Pittsburgh last season, Spillane posted a 77.3 PFF run-defense grade that ranked 22nd among linebackers. But where he really can help defend against Williams is the former Steeler only missed one tackle against the run at a 2.9 percent rate which was seventh-best at his position.
Granted, Williams might be on a pitch count to begin the campaign, but that could change quickly if the Raiders are struggling to bring him down.
Patrick Graham vs. Sean Payton
Putting together a game plan for an opponent in Week 1 is always tough for coordinators because there is a level of uncertainty as to what plays your adversary going to run. Most coaches/play-callers keep things pretty generic during the preseason for that reason, to avoid tipping their hands.
So, the game plan for the opener is typically based on the previous season, however, that becomes increasingly more difficult when the other team has a new coach/play-caller, especially one that was out of the league a year ago as Payton was.
That puts a lot more stress on Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who will have to call plays almost on the fly and rely on a lot of in-game adjustments. Of course, that’s always part of a coordinator’s job but it will be an even bigger point of emphasis this Sunday with limited information available ahead of the matchup.
The last time Payton and Graham faced each other was in 2021 when Payton was with the Saints and Graham with the Giants, and Graham and New York walked away with a 27-21 overtime victory. However, New Orleans did log over 400 total yards with 170 coming on the ground and they were eight of 13 on third downs, so it’s hard to say the defensive coordinator had the upper hand in that contest.
DraftKings Sportsbook has the line for the Broncos’ total points set at 23.5 where the over is the favorite (-122 to +102 for the under), so the oddsmakers seem to favor Payton to win this one-on-one battle.