Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) at Las Vegas Raiders (3-2)
The Raiders have had a tough start to their season. The easiest game they’ve had so far was on the road in Carolina against a capable Panthers team and in their other four games they’ve had to face the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, and Bills. Despite their tough schedule and despite missing two key offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown for most of the season, the Raiders have still gone 3-2 over their first 5 games, including wins over the Saints and Chiefs, and their two losses (Bills and Patriots) were both games in which the Raiders were competitive in the first down rate battle. On the season, the Raiders rank 10th in first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule at +2.05% and it stands to reason that they’ll be better than that going forward when they have their offensive line healthy.
Unfortunately, things are not getting any easier for the Raiders this week, as not only are they not getting their offensive linemen back, but most of their offensive line didn’t practice this week due to potential COVID exposure. At one point this week, it looked like the Raiders may have to play this game with backups across the whole line, which is why this line is just being posted now. The Raiders should have everyone except Incognito and Brown available, but the lack of practice time will hurt. On top of that, the Raiders schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Buccaneers coming to town.
The Buccaneers have a pair of losses on the season, but one was a one-point loss in Chicago and the other came in a game in New Orleans in which they won the first down rate battle by 8.18% and only lost the game because they lost the turnover battle by 3, which was never going to happen every week. The Buccaneers lead the league by more than a full percent with a +7.11% first down rate differential and they are even better when strength of schedule is taken into account, as they are at +8.06%, while no other team is better than +5.46% (Chiefs).
The Buccaneers lost stud defensive tackle Vita Vea for the season with injury, but they got a solid replacement for him on early downs in veteran Steve McLendon and they are otherwise healthy, particularly on offense, where they’ve only had their dominant wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin healthy in the same game once this season, last week’s blowout victory over the Packers. The Buccaneers also rank first in my roster rankings and should be favored by about a touchdown in this game, as the Raiders are a capable opponent, but probably won’t be able to overcome the tough situation they are in and the Buccaneers large talent advantage, especially since they also won’t have the benefit of having any fans in the stadium. We’re not getting great line value with the Buccaneers at -4, but they’re worth a bet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Las Vegas Raiders 24
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -4