I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL heading into Week 18 when you’re overseeing a team with nothing to play for. It’s only human nature in a sport as physical and demanding as football for some guys to start looking ahead, preserving their health, and maybe taking their foot off the gas a tiny bit, right?
Having been officially eliminated last week after their loss in Indianapolis, this is the situation staring down interim head coach Antonio Pierce — and in some ways, it’s both an opportunity and a test for a guy who is hanging his hat on changing the culture in Las Vegas. Imagine if the Las Vegas Raiders come out on Sunday like a bull in a china shop — playing like their life depends on it, genuinely owning their coach’s commitment to finishing out this season strong?
It’s one thing to have guys motivated when you can dangle the carrot of a postseason run in front of them — but an even better measure of your sway in a locker room is how they might respond when there’s absolutely nothing but pride on the line.
Their opponent this Sunday is the Denver Broncos, whose off-the-field drama has overwhelmed everything else as they’ve tried (miserably) to navigate their Russell Wilson contract drama. Like the Raiders last year, they non-verbally announced to the world that they care far less about winning than they do about making wise financial decisions (and presumably preserving the best draft position they can).
On the surface alone it feels like this is a matchup that favors the Raiders, right? One team who loves their coach and is playing for the right to win him the job versus another team who benched their best option at quarterback because the coach is the most secure person in the building? Not to mention the game is in Vegas? Come on now.
Now normally we’d shift to picks at this point, but because of all the uncertainty about who is actually playing and who isn’t (Pierce has indicated that everyone who is available for the Raiders will play — including Josh Jacobs, if he’s able to clear every hurdle on gameday). So instead, we’ll focus on players and matchups we like — information that may or may not be helpful should lines ever materialize…
Last Week: 1-4, -3.13u; Season: 40-41-2, -0.54u
Raise your hand if you’re the moron who got a little bit out over his skis and took the Raiders moneyline instead of the 3.5 points being offered to you? Yep, this guy. I mean, I even wrote this: “The smart thing to do would be to take the 3.5 points, but the fun thing to do is to take the money line.” GULP.
Well, you live and you learn — and hopefully nail a pick or two to get into the black for the year.
Aidan O’Connell: OVERS
I dabbled on the under with King Aidan last week and wouldn’t make the same mistake again this week depending on the exact line. The Broncos have given up 256 and 220 passing yards the past two weeks to Bailey Zappe and Easton Stick — without turning over either bottom-end quarterback. O’Connell is coming off his best game of the season, won’t ever be taken out of this game (barring injury) and is playing for a team that really does want to win. Depending on the passing yards line, I’d be interested — not to mention the UNDER on his interception line.
Zamir White: UNDERS
I know White has been productive the past couple of weeks in Jacobs’ absence, but if he’s the bell-cow again this week I’d lean under for him. For one, and I know this is a hot take given his box score performance of late, I’m just not really that sold on him — he seems to run into contact rather than being able to avoid it, and that scares me. I know the Raiders will have their offensive line back intact this week, but the Broncos have only allowed 145 rushing yards over the past two weeks.
Jakobi Myers OVERS
Myers went for nine grabs in Week 1 against Denver, and with Pat Surtain II probably shadowing Davante Adams I think we could see a repeat performance there. If King Aidan is going to hit some overs, we need somebody to have a big day, so I’ll ride with Myers.
Now for some actual lines and picks…
Game Total UNDER 37 (-110)
The Raiders defense is going to come to play, so I don’t see Denver getting past 14 in this one — giving us plenty of room for the Raiders offense to have a big day. Again: I’d find a Denver team total more appealing I think, but this is what we’ve got available today.
Raiders -2.5 (-125)
I don’t love the juice here, but not having to give the full three is attractive so we’ll take it. I think the Raiders win this one — and potentially pretty comfortably, based almost entirely on desire. Give me 23-13 as a final score in the season finale.