The Las Vegas Raiders have been one of the biggest talking points in the NFL this week, though it isn’t for the reasons they would have hoped heading into Week 17. The Raiders still have the slimmest playoff hopes, and even though the Raiders aren’t in the Bay Area anymore, there is still at least a bit of a rivalry between themselves and their opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.
Of course, the Raiders enter this game with a new starting quarterback, choosing to bench incumbent Derek Carr for Jarrett Stidham, who will be making his first career NFL start. The fourth-year man does have all the weapons a first-time starter could ask for, with a star receiver and the NFL’s leading rusher, but he must go toe-to-toe with the NFL’s best defense.
The Raiders come into this game at 6-9 and having lost two of their last three games to all but eliminate them from playoff contention. The Niners, on the other hand, are the NFL’s hottest team boasting an eight-game win streak and having clinched the NFC West division.
San Francisco: 15.3 points allowed per game (1st), 75 rushing yards allowed per game (1st)
To put it simply, you couldn’t have picked a worse team for a quarterback to be making his first start against, as this Niners defense is simply relentless. The 20 points they gave up to Washington last week was the most they have allowed during their win streak and only the third time they allowed 20 points or more this season. And they are particularly stout against the run, having not allowed any team to reach 80 yards on the ground in the last two months.
But this doesn’t mean that they are vulnerable through the air, as they rank fourth in the NFL in interceptions (15) and fourth in quarterback hits (105). It will take a true team effort for the Raiders offense to find success. That means the offensive line will need to hold up in pass protection and create some holes in the run game, which hopefully will allow Stidham some time to get the ball to his playmakers in the pass game.
Las Vegas: Sack percentage 5.3% (6th)
The Raiders offensive line was one of the biggest question marks coming into the season, but they have held up extremely well, allowing their quarterback to stay upright. That will be even more important with Stidham under center this week and that Niners defense looking to tee off on a first-time starter.
Getting the run game going against this front will be a tough ask, but at the very least, the Raiders front must do everything possible to ensure Stidham isn’t under constant pressure and make life easy.
San Francisco: Nick Bosa
The front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason. Bosa leads the NFL in sacks (17.5) and quarterback hits (42) while ranking second to the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby in tackles for loss (18). The Niners star has recorded at least one sack in all but two games this season and has three or more quarterback hits in six of the last eight contests. It’s impossible to completely keep him out of the backfield, but limiting the havoc he regularly causes will be paramount to coming away with a victory.
Las Vegas: Darren Waller
Since returning from injury Waller has been solid for the Raiders, grabbing a touchdown in his first game while leading the team in receiving last week. This week the Raiders will need him to be the matchup nightmare he has been in previous seasons to really open things up and make life easier for Stidham. That won’t be easy as the Niners have perhaps the best coverage linebacker in the league in Fred Warner, but Waller winning this matchup would be crucial.
49ers 27, Raiders 13
Perhaps Jarrett Stidham can provide a boost for the Raiders, but the Niners have simply been on a roll, and it’s hard to envision that ending at the hands of a quarterback in his first career start. If the Raiders are somehow able to do what few have been able to and establish a run game, they could potentially find ways to get some points on the board with skill position talent they have. Creating some turnovers from Niners rookie QB Brock Purdy would also go a long way, but this season’s history tells us that San Francisco is the far more likely team to win the turnover battle and thus, this contest.