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Raiders at Jets

Bill Kostroun / Associated Press

Las Vegas Raiders’ Trayvon Mullen (27) celebrates his interception during the first half an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J.

• Who: Colts (8-4) at Raiders (7-5)

• When: 1:05 p.m.

• Where: Allegiant Stadium

• TV: KLAS-TV Channel 8

• Radio: Radio Nation Radio 920 AM, KOMP 92.3

• Betting line: Colts -3, over/under: 50.5

Allegiant Stadium hosts one of the most important NFL games of the week when the Colts visit a Raiders team returning home after two weeks on the road. Indianapolis and Las Vegas are two of seven teams fighting for the final four spots in the AFC Playoffs. The Colts still have a chance to win their division as they’re currently tied with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South while the Raiders are in search of one of three wild-card berths. One team will take a major step forward in prolonging its season while the other will see its probability of reaching the postseason slashed. Both sides will be looking to improve following similar declines in the last two weeks. The Raiders and Colts each suffered their worst losses of the season two weeks ago — the former lost 43-6 at Atlanta with the latter losing 45-26 to Tennessee — before having to eke out wins in mediocre performances a week ago. The Raiders had to complete a Hail Mary in the final seconds to beat the winless Jets 31-28, while the Colts needed a fumble recovery at the goal line to hold off the Texans 26-20.

Favorable matchup: Raiders’ receiving depth vs. Colts’ pass defense

The Colts are an interesting case in that they’ve become a contender by playing solid across the board despite not being outstanding in any single area. One of the only places where statistics indicate they’ve undeniably struggled is against slot receivers and other pass-catchers not lined up out wide, as they’re 24th in the league against “other receivers” by Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. That’s something the Raiders should be able to exploit. Apart from tight end Darren Waller, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow leads Las Vegas in receptions, targets and receiving yards. Nelson Agholor has been more frequently lining up as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver lately, but he’s also had success throughout the season in the slot. Neither Bryan Edwards nor Zay Jones have put up big numbers but the Raiders also have the utmost confidence in them to employ packages with extra receivers.

Problematic matchup: DeForest Buckner vs. Raiders’ guards

Indianapolis’ acquisition of quarterback Philip Rivers was its biggest story of the offseason but trading for Buckner has arguably paid even more dividends. The former All-Pro San Francisco 49er has been one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. That’s an issue for the Raiders as they’ve been vulnerable in the interior of the offensive line ever since losing Richie Incognito for the season in their second game. Rodney Hudson has been characteristically stout at center, but both veteran starting guard Gabe Jackson and utility man Denzelle Good have been more inconsistent. Buckner creates a mismatch against the latter two, and in a number of ways. The fifth-year player came into the league as a pass-rushing prospect but has proven to be just as strong against the run. Las Vegas is determined to reinvigorate its run game, but they’ll have to go through Buckner to do it.

• “I don’t believe any of those statistics. I believe it’s all hogwash. Who has the ability to look at 251,000 games? Nobody. Nobody can do that. It’s not the first time we’ve seen an all-out blitz at the end of a game.” -Coach Jon Gruden on reports of the Jets’ blitz at the end of last week’s game being unprecedented

• “He plays the game at a different level mentally than a lot of quarterbacks play the game nowadays. He’s making checks at the line and things like that. A lot of people don’t do that stuff anymore; he still does. As an old soul, it’s fun for me to watch.” -Quarterback Derek Carr on Colts quarterback Philip Rivers

• “In this league, they pay the tackles big money, maybe not necessarily guards.” -Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on why the Raiders are increasingly lining up defensive end Clelin Ferrell at defensive tackle

• “It doesn’t matter if it’s a clean win or a dirty win. We just got out of beating the Jets by a dirty win. It’s December and it’s win by any means” -Running back Jalen Richard on what Carr calls the Raiders’ “single-elimination mindset”

Gamebreaker: Cornerback Trayvon Mullen

Lost in the craziness of Henry Ruggs’ game-winning touchdown catch against the Jets was the Raiders’ other biggest highlight play from earlier in the game — Trayvon Mullen diving for a one-handed interception near the end of the first half. Mullen’s pick seemed to spark the Raiders momentarily as the sideline celebrated en masse and a 13-10 deficit quickly became a 24-13 lead when they scored on their next two offensive drives. It was the second time in three weeks that Mullen made a big interception as he also stopped the Kansas City Chiefs from scoring with a pick near the end zone in the Raiders’ last home game. Perhaps because of Las Vegas’ overall struggles on defense and the fact that it doesn’t employ its cornerbacks to shadow single receivers, Mullen’s progression in his second year has gone largely overlooked. But he’s made a leap and will challenge whichever Colts receiver lines up across from him on every play.

Big Number: 29

Colts quarterback Philip Rivers is set to surpass John Elway for the most career starts against the Raiders on Sunday with his 29th. The 39-year-old former Chargers great is facing the Raiders for the 15th consecutive season. He already holds the individual wins record against the Raiders as he’s gone 18-10 lifetime, far ahead of Elway’s 13-15 record. Rivers has thrown for 7,103 yards, 47 touchdowns and 22 interceptions against the Raiders. “I know he wants to beat us in the worst way,” Gruden said. “He has a disdain for the Raiders. He’s made that perfectly honest to me in the last three years I’ve been back on the sidelines, so it’s great to see him playing well and we look forward to competing against him also.”

Best Bet: Darren Waller under 60.5 receiving yards

It seems to happen frequently across several NFL games: The skill player who blew up with one of the best showings in the league one week disappoints in the next. It’s usually to no fault of the player’s own, but more a result of the following opponent’s focus to shut him down. Waller is on alert this week after he became the fourth tight end in NFL history to reach 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a game, which he did on 13 receptions against the Jets. And this wasn’t a good matchup to begin with. Indianapolis has been one of the best teams in the NFL at defending tight ends, and it’s hard to imagine Waller operating with as much space as he did at New York.

Article written by #LasVegasSun