During the 2020 NFL offseason, the Oakland Raiders moved about 600 miles to the East from Northern California to Las Vegas, Nevada. This promised to open a new chapter in the franchise’s long history. This is precisely what they have been able to do thus far, standing out as one of the most impressive contenders for Super Bowl LV.
They have defied the odds and put the whole league on notice. The Raiders had the second-most difficult schedule heading into the year, only after the Denver Broncos. Moreover, they’ve gone through by far the toughest stretch through 12 weeks of NFL football. Their opponents have an average winning percentage of around .640, per PlayoffStatus.com.
Despite all the obstacles, the Raiders have won six of their first ten games. Furthermore, they are occupying the last playoff spot in the AFC, barely beating out Miami and Baltimore on a tiebreaker. They first broke through with a sensational Week 5 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City. In their latest primetime matchup, the Chiefs got revenge with a close win in Nevada. Nonetheless, LV already has improbable wins over New Orleans, KC, and Cleveland on their impressive resume. Their remaining slate, the easiest in the conference, provides a great chance for Jon Gruden’s team to reach the postseason after four seasons.
The next test on the road to the big stage is the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta has played what many consider to be a disappointing campaign as their 3-7 record doesn’t reflect the talent on the roster. The Falcons, mainly due to defensive struggles, have fallen out of a tight NFC South battle between the Saints and the Buccaneers. Nevertheless, a detailed breakdown shows that a winning streak is only a matter of time. Still, this might be a bit difficult with their remaining program, the toughest in the league. If the Falcons are to make a miraculous run for a playoff spot, the path goes through a Week-12 win. Moreover, Atlanta is capable of surprising the Raiders, and this is bad news for LV.
A comfortable matchup for the Falcons offense
Despite the ups and the downs of the outcomes of the Falcons games this year, one strength of their remains constant throughout the campaign. As usual, Matt Ryan has led one of the most explosive passing units in the NFL. The Falcons’ air raid accumulates an average of 280.6 yards per game, second-most in the league after the Chiefs.
The versatile weaponry available to Ryan has paid a lot of dividends. While Julio Jones missed ATL’s Week-Three clash with the Bears, he has still registered the most efficient campaign in his career. Jones is the only Atlanta receiver with more than 25 targets to post a catch percentage north of 70 (77.6). Meanwhile, Calvin Ridley leads the team with 77 targets, ranked 18th league-wide, alongside four other players.
All in all, the Falcons have four pass-catchers with 35+ receptions, and the unit’s 2806 yards amount to three-quarters of the offense’s production. This outpaces the distribution of the pass in the play selection. Passing play is the choice on 56.4 percent of Atlanta’s offensive plays. Therefore, with the Falcons placing inside the top 10 on total yards, this has been giving Atlanta a boost.
This phenomenon is unlikely to change against the Raiders. In fact, it could very well be an even bigger factor for a possible Falcons victory. Atlanta’s offense will go up against one of the worst passing defenses it has faced all season long. The Raiders have conceded 273.7 yards per game through the air, the fifth-most in the league this year. The Falcons’ air game is a huge factor why the Falcons shouldn’t be ruled out in almost any game this year. Similarly, Vegas’s secondary woes could allow Atlanta to aim for season-high figures and make the struggling defense’s task slightly easier.
Mixed-bag defense can catch a break
The Falcons’ defensive group has single-handedly ruined a very promising season. Of course, this has been the theme for a couple of years now and there’s no guarantee Atlanta would have survived the South with a few defensive additions. However, there isn’t any doubt that the Falcons wouldn’t be anywhere near 3-7 if they had even a middle-of-the-pack defense.
Atlanta has so far allowed the fourth-most yards in total with 406 per game. The team has been one of the worst against the pass, with 303 per game ranking second-most after the Seahawks. Their luck versus the run hasn’t been much better. The Falcons’ front line has surrendered 4.4 yards per carry on average, which is the same as the Raiders, with both units ranking near the middle of the table.
The Raiders are rightfully regarded as three-point favorites. A big reason why truly is the Falcons’ defense, which has cost them many wins in high-scoring games. Furthermore, the Raiders’ air unit is very similar in quality compared to the other teams Atlanta has faced this year. Derek Carr and his group have produced the 20th-most yards per game with nearly 235, and five of the Falcons’ nine opponents in 2020 are within five places of LV’s position. Moreover, one of the remaining three – Chicago – is even lower than that.
All the signs and data point to the Falcons likely having another brutal day defensively. Therefore, this will result in them letting one slip away yet again. Atlanta could be more successful than usual due to their satisfying run defense and the Raiders running the ball 48 percent of the time. Still, this provides minimal upsides. In addition, it might not be enough to stop the woeful defense from outweighing the offense’s vast capabilities.
Game overview and prediction
As the aforementioned data proves, the issues of the Falcons defense, mainly against the pass, might be even more problematic. On the one hand, Matt Ryan’s group seems so poised for a high-scoring day that it is difficult not to envision Atlanta staying competitive. In such a case, all it takes is a slight improvement from the secondary for a surprising win. On the other hand, even an improvement like that has been hard to come by throughout the 2020 Falcons campaign. Furthermore, Julio Jones’s latest injury could deprive him of playing in Week 12. This is a further concern for the Falcons and a possible disruptor in the battle for a playoff spot. Prediction: Las Vegas Raiders win 30-27.