New Orleans Saints (1-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (1-0)
The Raiders went 7-9 last season, but they were not nearly as good as their record suggested, as all seven of their wins were decided by 8 points or fewer, including a few that easily could have gone the other way, while 6 of their 9 losses came by 18 points or more, giving them a -106 point differential on the season, which is much more in line with a 4-5 win team than a 7-win team. The same is true of their 29th ranked first down rate differential of -5.27%.
I was expecting the Raiders to be better this season, even if it didn’t necessarily translate into more wins, for a couple reasons. The first was off-season additions, most notably linebacker Cory Littleton, who signed on a big contract this off-season after being one of the best linebackers in the league with the Rams last season. The second reason was that I expected their offensive line to be healthier. The strength of this team along with the running game they block for, the Raiders have average or better starters at all five spots upfront, but those five starters played just four games together in 2019.
Unfortunately, this year is not off to a much better start in that category, with right tackle Trent Brown expected to miss this game. Without him and off-season addition Nick Kwiatkowski, who is also injured, the Raiders are starting to resemble last year’s team and the timing is not good, with the Raiders set to face the Saints, one of the top teams in the league and the kind of team that would have blown them out pretty easily last season.
Fortunately for the Raiders, the Saints come in pretty banged up too, missing wide receiver Michael Thomas, one of the best offensive players in the game, and talented starting defensive end Marcus Davenport. The Saints also didn’t play that well in week 1, beating the Buccaneers by 11, but losing the first down rate battle by 8.18% and winning primarily because of a +3 turnover margin, which is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.
Their relative struggles last week were likely in part due to injuries, particularly Thomas who did not appear healthy all game, but Drew Brees also had one of his worst games in years by a number of advanced metrics, a concern for a quarterback at an age where quarterbacks can drop off very quickly. This could just be a case of the Saints’ typical early season struggles, as even with last week’s turnover-aided win they are just 4-16-1 ATS in weeks 1 and 2 of the season since 2010 (85-53-2 ATS in weeks 3-17), but history suggests that’s not likely to go away for at least another week. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with them at -5.5, but there’s not enough here to take the Saints confidently.
New Orleans Saints 34 Las Vegas Raiders 27
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5