Monday Night Football Week 1 Preview and Prediction: Las Vegas Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens
Key Note: After an injury-riddled August, Baltimore will be without running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, cornerback Marcus Peters, and first-round wideout Rashod Bateman.
Baltimore Ravens Preview
The Ravens head to Las Vegas in Week 1 as the most battered and bruised team in the NFL. No other team’s training camp and preseason period went worse from an injury perspective, as Baltimore lost multiple key running backs including J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, multiple potential wide receiver contributors including first-round pick Rashod Bateman, and starting cornerback Marcus Peters.
Bateman should be back later this year, but the Ravens had to completely remake their running back room after three of their expected main four backs have been lost for the season. Those also happened to be the three that have actually played alongside Lamar Jackson, and it leaves Ty’Son Williams, who was the surprise of this year’s camp, to be backed up by some combination of several veterans they’ve added from Latavius Murray to Le’Veon Bell to Devonta Freeman. As of this writing, it’s not clear who will even be active from that group.
I’m not sure it matters, though. One of the really fascinating things about Baltimore is how run-heavy they’ve been since Lamar Jackson took over, and the discussion about whether they may throw more. I think we will, in fact, see that, but when they do run, we’ll still see Jackson’s heavy influence. Running backs tend to be more efficient when lined up next to mobile quarterbacks, as the defense has to respect the quarterback’s ability to keep and run to the edge himself, which tends to keep at least one edge defender from crashing inside. That influence Jackson holds has been evident in the efficiency of every back that has played with him, and it will help Williams and the veterans going forward, as well.
But Jackson is not too shabby as a passer, either. While Baltimore fans will have to wait to see Bateman in action — and he should be worth the wait when he’s finally ready — Jackson has done just fine with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown as his primary weapons over the past few seasons. He’ll enter 2021 the same way, so the Bateman injury is more a delayed attempt to upgrade his weaponry than a downgrade from last year.
The injuries have mounted, but they still leave behind an offense with its core piece — Jackson — and some firepower around him. Peters is a hit to the secondary, but the Ravens are still deep with playmakers there. This is a team that had gotten better this offseason, and while the injuries definitely hurt, they still project to be solidly better than the Raiders.
Las Vegas Raiders Preview
Las Vegas will still struggle to stop the Ravens offense with what projects to be a poor defensive unit, and offensively, they’ll trot out Derek Carr and a young wide receiver trio. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two teams can be summed up by the running back position, which is maybe the least-impactful offensive position group on wins and losses. The Ravens’ injuries have been concentrated to that position, and it should mean the impact won’t be quite as great as if another position group was completely decimated, while the Raiders’ can count Kenyan Drake as their biggest offseason addition after they gave him a nice contract with solid guarantees. Drake is not the type of player that will move the needle for the offense, especially alongside a former first-round pick in Josh Jacobs.
There’s some sneaky upside in the passing game as Derek Carr has quietly made some improvements over the past few seasons, but the offensive line is completely revamped this year, and the young wide receivers may need some time to develop. Darren Waller is a real difference-maker at tight end, but despite Baltimore’s injury-riddled offseason, it’s the Raiders who lack more depth at key position units. I’m taking Baltimore to rebound from the spate of bad injury news and come out fiery in Week 1 to cover against what still looks to be an inferior team.