The Las Vegas Raiders know the schedule is going to get easier eventually — and yet, that day still feels like it is a long way off. After falling to the New England Patriots on the heels of a difficult travel schedule, the Raiders return home to face an even tougher test in the form of the 3-0 Buffalo Bills. The Bills are led by quarterback Josh Allen, who has planted himself firmly into the early-season MVP conversation thanks to his video game stats (1,038 yards passing, 12 total touchdowns) and his team’s unblemished record.
For the Raiders, things aren’t getting much better on the injury front with Damon Arnette out and Trent Brown, Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards all doubtful. Nick Kwiatkoski has logged a couple of limited practices this week, though, which is encouraging — as he’s probably questionable heading into Sunday.
1) It’s fascinating that the Raiders get Allen one week after facing Cam Newton as the two are probably the best comparison for one another — big, athletic quarterbacks whose running style is more of a power game than speed. Of course, Allen has been a much better passer this season — and has a much healthier array of weapons around him in John Brown, Stefon Diggs and Devin Singletary, among others.
The good news for the Raiders? They did hold Cam Newton to just 27 yards on nine attempts, however, he was the only part of the Patriots run game they were able to stop. If Kwiatkoski is back this week, I’d expect that to give the Raiders a massive boost defensively — and gives them a real chance to slow down Allen on the ground.
2) Trayvon Mullen may not be getting much attention, but he is quietly charting a path towards being a Pro Bowl level corner for the Raiders. Pro Football Focus gave him the highest coverage grade when playing press coverage in all of football (90.8). This week he’ll face one of the best route-runners in all of football (Diggs), and so it’ll be another great test for the second-year man out of Clemson.
3) Darren Waller was shut down last week — and while Jon Gruden will being hounding Derek Carr about making sure that doesn’t happen again, the Bills defense might be just what the doctor ordered. In three games, they’ve allowed tight ends to catch 18 passes for 241 yards — a number that must have Gruden drooling a bit. With the Raiders potentially missing their top three receivers Sunday, if Waller doesn’t go for 80+ yards, the Vegas offense is in trouble.
1) So far I’ve kept these to the offensive side, so I’m trending on defense this week. I think the Raiders run defense has a MASSIVE bounce-back Sunday — in part because Kwiatkoski is back and in part because I’m sure they’ve been screamed at all week. I really do think the Raiders have the right bones for a good run defense — guys like Kwiatkoski and defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell and Jonathan Hankins are better run defenders than pass defenders — and I think this is the week they put it all together. The Bills are averaging just over 100 yards per game on the ground, while the Raiders are now allowing over 160 yards per game.
Prediction: Raiders hold the Bills under 90 yards of total rushing yards
2) As for the game itself, the Raiders at +3 home underdogs feel like a sexy pick. I think in part this is because people don’t entirely believe in the Bills (they’ve beaten a pair of terrible teams — Dolphins and Jets — and probably should have lost to the Rams last week), as well as maybe some grace shown to the Raiders after last week’s performance.
The problem for me is all of the injuries. If Ruggs and Edwards are both out, plus Arnette and possibly Brown again — that’s a lot to overcome. On the flip side: Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones have proven they’re good enough to be serious contributors (not to mention Jones would probably love a bit of revenge against the team that gave up on him).
Prediction: 21-19 Bills