Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 | 2 a.m.
The Las Vegas Raiders dispatched a Super Bowl contender their last time out; now they must defeat another.
The Raiders (3-2) have been riding high for two weeks, through their bye, after pulling off the biggest upset of the NFL season so far in beating the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road. To maintain their good spirits, they’ll have to play a similarly strong game against six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who’s looking to add another ring with his new team.
The Buccaneers (4-2) have lived up to the hype since Brady’s arrival, albeit not totally because of Brady’s arrival. Tampa Bay’s offense has been fine under Brady, but defense is what’s really propelled the Buccaneers into becoming the second favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, behind the Seattle Seahawks, according to local betting odds.
The game was originally scheduled for NBC’s Sunday Night Football but was swapped out when right tackle Trent Brown was added to the COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Brown was determined to have come into contact with six other players — the rest of the starting offensive line and safety Johnathan Abram — who were also sent home and unable to practice for the week.
• Who: Buccaneers at Raiders
• When: 1:05 p.m.
• Where: Allegiant Stadium
• Media: KVVU-TV, Fox 5; Raider Nation Radio 920 AM
• Betting line: Buccaneers -3.5, over/under: 52
Favorable matchup: Raiders’ defensive line vs. Buccaneers’ offensive line
This is a bit speculative, but if the Raiders’ defensive front can play up to the level it showed against the Chiefs, then it’s going to turn into an unforeseen strength. Las Vegas wreaked havoc on Patrick Mahomes despite often rushing only its front four. Displaced from defensive end to defensive tackle because of injuries, Clelin Ferrell had the best game of his career in racking up nine pressures on Mahomes. With tackles Maliek Collins and Maurice Hurst expected to return against the Buccaneers, the Raiders should theoretically be able to mount even more pressure on Brady. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been solid and is certainly not a weakness, but it also has less star power than any other position group on the visitors’ roster. The unit has particularly struggled away from home, allowing Brady to be sacked eight times in three road games.
Problematic matchup: Raiders’ short passing game vs. Buccaneers’ defensive backs
The Raiders’ short passing attack has been as efficient as any team in the NFL’s. The Buccaneers’ short passing defense has been as stingy as any teams in the NFL’s. Something has to give. Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians is known as an aggressive defensive coach, and his team has taken on his personality by not hesitating to jump on routes near the line of scrimmage to try to create turnovers and big plays. The Buccaneers sit second in the NFL with eight interceptions, including two off of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, who had started the season with four turnover-free performances. Jamel Dean, who returned one Rodgers interception 32 yards for a touchdown, has been a breakout star and arguably the best cornerback in the league. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr must be careful with players like Dean and Carlton Davis, who has three interceptions on the year, lurking and looking to pounce on mistakes.
• “I try not to get too deep, too philosophical. I had a great time in Tampa. A lot of my friends still live there.” -Gruden on facing the Buccaneers for the first time since coaching the franchise from 2002-08
• “It ranks No. 1 in the weirdest things, and you all know we’ve seen a lot of weird things in my seven years here.” -Carr on the entire offensive line not being able to practice this week
• “We all knew there was going to be some ups and downs and knew we had to deal with some BS going into the season, but as far as the game, we can line up and play tomorrow. It doesn’t matter to us.” -Ferrell on the rescheduling
• “Especially in a home crowd, I don’t have guys cussing me out in the stands.” -Kicker Daniel Carlson on why he misses fans despite silence making his job easier
Gamebreaker: Wide receiver Henry Ruggs III
If the Raiders find it difficult to connect on short routes, they could always just throw downfield more often. That’s what they did against the Chiefs, with both Carr and coach Jon Gruden saying they felt more comfortable doing so with Ruggs in the lineup. The rookie burner had two receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown against Kansas City after missing Las Vegas’ two previous games, but his impact went beyond the numbers. Ruggs’ speed demands attention as safeties must play deeper and put extra emphasis on not letting him get behind the defense like he did on a 72-yard completion for his first career touchdown against the Chiefs. Put simply, Ruggs opens up the whole passing game. With an extra week of rest, he’s presumably fully recovered from a knee injury that’s limited him ever since the first half of Week 1 and possibly more dangerous than ever.
Big Number: 1
The Buccaneers’ ranking in two of the most well-respected analytical models ranking NFL teams — Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings and nflfastR’s EPA. Both sets of power ratings are predicated upon calculating the success or failure of every play run this season and help illustrate just how dominant Tampa Bay has played despite two losses. The Buccaneers grade out almost as well by more traditional metrics as they sit second in the NFL with a +55 scoring margin, seven points behind the Steelers, which have played a much weaker schedule. DVOA graded the Buccaneers’ 38-10 win over the Packers last week as the best game played by any team all season. Aside from a second meeting against the Chiefs next month, the Raiders won’t play a better team the rest of the season.
Best Bet: Josh Jacobs under 68.5 rushing yards
Between veterans being given time off during the bye and the ensuing coronavirus scare, most of the Raiders’ offensive line hasn’t practiced in two weeks. The rustiness seems likely to cause problems on gameday, and because Carr is so adept in getting rid of the ball quickly, it might have a bigger impact on the run game than the pass game. Trying to block the likes of the Buccaneers’ Lavonte David and Ndamukong Suh after five days of isolation is a tall order. Jacobs’ workload is also expected to decrease given the emergence of backup Devontae Booker, whom Gruden wants to continue to get more carries. Look for the Raiders to be forced into a more pass-happy approach and Jacobs potentially being a bigger factor in the pass game than the run game, where he’ll struggle to cross even 50 rush yards.