The first week of the NFL season comes to a conclusion with an AFC West rivalry game between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. The doubleheader on Monday night means this game has a kickoff time of 10:20 EST at the Oakland Coliseum. The game can be seen on ESPN.
According to our Week 1 NFL odds, this is a straight PK, although the line has bounced around a lot during the week. The over/under for the game is set at 43 points.
The Raiders have already endured a season’s worth of drama even before they’ve played their first game. The biggest story in the NFL heading into the opening weekend is the Raiders releasing wide receiver Antonio Brown on Saturday, two days before playing the Broncos. It’s safe to say that Brown has been a distraction during the preseason, but parting ways with him at this point won’t make the story go away.
On top of that, Brown was supposed to be one of the biggest reasons for optimism in Oakland this season. Jon Gruden’s return to the Raiders was a disaster last year, as the team went 4-12. They were hoping to take a big step forward this year, in part because they added Brown to their offense. However, they decided the drama wasn’t worth the talent.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are entering a new era with a new head coach and a new quarterback. Vance Joseph was fired after going 11-21 over the past two seasons and replaced with Vic Fangio, who guided Chicago’s outstanding defense last year.
Denver also decided to part ways with quarterback Case Keenum after one season, opting to trade for Joe Flacco, who lost his job in Baltimore to Lamar Jackson. Flacco is no longer in the prime of his career, but the Broncos hope he has something left in the tank and can help turnaround their offense. Denver had success a few years ago when they brought in an aging Peyton Manning and ultimately paired him with a dominant defense. They now hope that lightning can strike twice with Fangio and Flacco.
Of course, despite both teams needing to do some rebuilding, the Broncos and Raiders are always ready to play when they face one another. This remains one of the most bitter rivalries in football. Playing on Monday night and being the last time the Broncos visit Oakland will only add to that. The two teams have split the season series in four straight years with the home team winning the last six games, a trend that works in Oakland’s favor.
Are the Raiders really the kind of team that can put all the craziness aside and win a game? The team is a mess at the moment and that seasons likely to translate onto the field in all the wrong ways. On top of that, Oakland was terrible last season. I’ll go against recent history in this series and lean toward the Broncos to win on Monday night.
We’ll see what happens with Flacco and the Denver offense, but the Broncos should be good on defense this season. They lost a few key guys during the offseason, but the pass-rushing tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb remains. Those two could be the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL. The Broncos also have a star in the secondary in Chris Harris, which should put them in good shape, especially in Fangio’s scheme.
With Brown no longer available, Oakland’s offense may have to revolve around rookie running back Josh Jacobs. The Raiders weren’t particularly good at running the ball last year, but they may have little choice but to see what Jacobs can do. Of course, the Broncos won’t have to respect Oakland’s passing attack as much without Brown. That could allow them to focus on stopping the run to set up Miller and Chubb getting after Oakland quarterback Derek Carr.
Meanwhile, the Oakland defense has a number of problems to work out after last season. The biggest issue was their failure to put pressure on the quarterback, leaving the secondary exposed. The hope is that first-round pick Clelin Ferrell can help solve that. The addition of Vontaze Burfict also upgrades their talent at linebacker. But there’s still a long way to go for the Raiders to make meaningful strides on defense.
Even if the jury is still out on Flacco, it should be a safe bet that the Broncos will run the ball with consistency. Running back Philip Lindsay was a Pro Bowler as a rookie last season. Backup Royce Freeman can’t be overlooked either. As long as the Broncos can get something substantial from their running game, Flacco should be in good shape. Denver’s receivers are a little inexperienced with the exception of Emmanuel Sanders, who looked good in the preseason and could be a deep threat if Flacco gets time in the pocket.
To be fair, the Broncos have plenty of questions to answer heading into the season. But the Raiders have far more, not to mention all of the off-field distractions. This will be an ugly game, but Denver has the kind of defense that can allow them to win ugly, so I’ll lean toward the Broncos on Monday night.