On paper, this game looks like something of a mismatch. Yeah, the Raiders are at home in the "Black Hole," but the Rams were 7-1 last year on the road and seemed to play much better away from home. The Oakland Raiders traded their best player, Khalil Mack easily, and their defense wasn't very good even with him last season at 20th overall. Still, this is the NFL and games on paper don't play. Will the Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay's decision to sit most of his starters during the preseason means the Rams come out a little rusty? And what will Jon Gruden cook up on offense after having been in the broadcast booth for the last decade?
Raiders Offense vs. Rams Defense
A few of the Raiders players were quoted this week as saying they may have to score on just about every possession to win this game, and that may well be true. A Rams defense that added Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Ndamukong Suh and brings back arguably the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald and loaded with talent, but this will be their first game experience as a unit. Will there be growing pains? It's certainly possible. One of the more intriguing matchups puts Raiders receiver Amari Cooper against Rams corner Marcus Peters. The two know each other well from Peters' days with the Kansas City Chiefs, so each pretty much knows what to expect in this battle. The Rams front three of Suh, Donald and Michael Brockers is downright scary, and while there are some questions about the outside linebackers, Samson Ekubam and Matt Longacre, when you add in the coaching wizardry of Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips the potential is there for this to be an outstanding defensive front. The Raiders offense could get ugly if the Raiders O-line doesn't play well. The Raiders start a rookie, first-round draft choice Kolton Miller at the all-important left tackle position with former left tackle Donald Penn moving over to the other side. The Raiders offensive line considered the team's strength overall, but this will be a big test. Rams linebacker Mark Barron is expected to miss this game with a foot injury, but I'm not sure the Rams lose much with former Chiefs starter Ramick Wilson stepping in for him. Gruden was quoted this week as saying he wants to "run the ball like it's 1998." If Gruden's statement is true, who knows but if the Raiders can do that successfully, it would keep the ball away from the explosive Rams offense and could keep the game close. Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has a groin injury. He's expected to play, but may not be 100 percent. Running back DeAndre Washington has been battling a knee problem, which may leave Oakland with Doug "Muscle Hamster" Martin and Jalen Ricard as healthy runners. Martin rushed for over 1,400 yards for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and 2014 but hasn't done much since then.
Rams Offense vs. Raiders Defense
Acquiring Khalil Mack is where the trade could matter most in this game.The Rams led the NFL in scoring last year, while Oakland ranked 29th in points allowed..and that was with Mack, one of the best defensive players in the league. The Rams offense should be, if anything even better, with a year under their belt in the McVay system. One of the critical matchups (no pun intended), will pit Raiders rookie defensive end Arden Key against Rams All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth. If Key can get into the Rams backfield and disrupt their offense, Oakland could at least have a fighting chance of keeping the score down somewhat. A lot of people think Rams are running back Todd Gurley could go off in this game, both running and receiving. One of the few free agents moves the Raiders made in the offseason was adding former Chiefs star Derrick Johnson at middle linebacker. But at 35, how much does he have left? I think Gurley has a significant advantage over this linebacking group. Raiders cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley are decent players. We'll see if they can contain Rams wideouts, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. The answer may depend on how much of a pass rush the Raiders can mount. Rams slot receiver Cooper Kupp will likely face former Cincinnati Bengals Leon Hall. Hall has had a respectable NFL career but is on the downside at this point. Kupp could potentially be in for a huge night.
Edge: Rams (unamiously)
Specialty game is always a strength for the Rams, who may have the best special teams in the NFL. If Johnny Hekker isn't the best punter on the planet, I'm missing something. Placekicker Greg "the leg" Zuerlein is a threat to put points on the board from 55 yards out and beyond. Kick returner Pharoh Cooper was excellent last season as, minus a bad game in the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons. The Rams excel in all phases of special teams and should have a big edge here.
There are some "x-factors" in this game, including the unpredictability of what Jon Gruden may do on offense, possible overconfidence on the part of a still-young Rams team, and the possible rust factor on the part of the Rams starters due to a lack of preseason action. It does have something of the feel of a ''trap game," and a Raiders win would not be a shock, though it would be a bit of a surprise. Anywhere between five to seven points favored the last time I checked the Rams. I think they will beat the spread.
Rams 37 Raiders 24