Monday Night Football Preview
The NFL season is finally back, and the first Monday Night Football of the year gives us a well-earned double dose. The first matchup sees Sam Darnold making his NFL debut as his New York Jets take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Detroit. Then week 1 closes with the Raiders playing host to the Rams at the Oakland Coliseum.
Jets at Lions
Lions – 7 | Over / Under 45
New York Jets
The Jets may have finished last in the AFC East with a 5-11 record last season, but they actually outperformed predictions. Many experts picked this team to go winless in 2017 but they shocked everyone by starting the year with wins against Miami, Jacksonville, and Cleveland in their opening 5 games, before dropping 9 from their last 11. Injury to Quarterback Josh McCown in a career year didn’t help. The play of backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg helped less. It wasn’t all bad though. Bilal Powell also had a career year in place of the injured Matt Forte, and Robby Anderson had a nice break out season in place of the injured Quincy Enunwa. See a theme here? New York added depth in the offseason with names like Isaiah Crowell, Thomas Rawls, and Terrelle Pryor as they look to take a step forward in rebuilding the franchise behind #3 overall pick, Sam Darnold.
Why They Will Win
Because there’s always an upset in week 1? I’m not sure what to tell you here to be honest. While the O/U on the Jets wins in 2018 is at 6 games, no one is giving them a chance in this one. However, the Jets have won 7 of their last 10 regular season openers dating back to 2008. Take that for what it’s worth.
Also, I don’t particularly hate their defense. They aren’t an elite group by any means, but I think this unit is a touch underrated. The front line improved as last season went on and just added Henry Anderson from the Colts. Not a huge signing but a decent piece. They’ve got some really promising young backs in third-year man Darron Lee and the sophomore safety pair of Marcus Maye and 6th overall pick, Jamal Adams. Another year in the system will help the confidence of these guys enormously. The corners were underwhelming, as ex-Cowboy Morris Claiborne was the clear #1 and could only be described as serviceable, at best. New York addressed this by giving ex-Ram Trumaine Johnson big money to be their main guy. He’s a big upgrade. Again, it’s not an amazing group, but I feel like they will continue to improve. They will need to do it in a hurry in order to compete in this one.
And Why They Won’t
Sam Darnold. It was announced during the week that Darnold had officially won the starting job for the Jets week 1 hit out. So, how do rookie QB’s go on the big stage? In short, not great. Since 1960, there have been 9 Quarterbacks to make their pro debut in the season opener and 7 of them lost. And by an average margin of 19.86 points too. DeShone Kizer was the most recent and by far most successful, of those 7 guys with his 3 point loss to the Steelers last year. The only 2 names to have won their debut: Fran Tarkenton and Marcus Mariota. One’s a Hall of Famer and the other played Jameis Winston when they both debuted, so someone had to lose that day.
|Quarterbacks who made their NFL debut in Week 1, at under 22 years old|
|1961||Fran Tarkenton||21y 226d||W 37-13|
|1968||Greg Landry||21y 272d||L 13-59|
|1968||Dan Darragh||21y 299d||L 7-16|
|1982||Mike Pagel||21y 364d||L 13-24|
|1993||Drew Bledsoe||21y 203d||L 14-38|
|2009||Matt Stafford||21y 218d||L 27-45|
|2015||Jameis Winston||21y 250d||L 14-42|
|2015||Marcus Mariota||21y 345d||W 42-14|
|2017||DeShone Kizer||21y 250d||L 18-21|
Sam Darnold, at 21 years and 97 days, makes number 10. New York traded a bunch of picks (the #6 overall, two second-round selections, and a second-rounder in 2019) to the Colts for the chance to move up 3 spots and get their man. Darnold then won the starting job for week 1 over Josh McCown. The Jets wanted a future franchise Quarterback and took their shot on Darnold. He has all the qualities to be just that, but he also has a lot of turnovers in him, throwing 13 picks and fumbling 11 times in his sophomore college season.
The Lions finished last year with a 9-7 record and their first back-to-back winning seasons since the 1993-1995 seasons. However, it still felt like a down year when you realize that the Aaron Rodgers injury all but wiped out the Packers’ season. Things won’t get any easier in 2018, with Green Bay and Minnesota both receiving key quarterback additions in a healthy Rodgers and the acquisition of Kirk Cousins, respectively. Still, Detroit has a pretty handy Quarterback of its own in Matthew Stafford, the all-around talent to push for a playoff berth, and a new HC that knows what a winning franchise looks like. Matt Patricia will be looking to implement a bit of the Patriot winning culture in Detroit.
Why They Will Win
The passing game. Despite what I just said about the Jets above, this Lions offense has been built to shred pass defenses. The ever-present Matt Stafford is back for his 113th consecutive start – 3rd longest among active NFL quarterbacks. And even though there’s a new HC in town, the system will be largely the same with Jim Bob Cooter retained as OC. Stafford threw for 4,446 yards, a 65% completion rate, 29 touchdowns, and 10 picks last year, in his first full season under Cooter despite the Lions starting 12 different offensive line combinations due to injuries.
Helping Stafford hit those lofty heights is a solid stable to receiving weapons. He’s got down-field threats in sophomore Kenny Golladay and veteran Marvin Jones Jr. — the latter of whom hauled in 9 touchdowns a season ago, good for 4th best in the NFL. And he’s got slot monster, Golden Tate, who’s had 4 straight years with 90+ receptions. 3 of those also went for 1,000 yards. Mix in Theo Riddick chipping in from the back-field and it all adds up to a ton of passing yardage. What he doesn’t have is a proven tight end. The Lions added Luke Willson from Seattle in the offseason and he replaces Eric Ebron as the starter. I doubt it hinders him too much.
And Why They Won’t
The run game. It’s been something that Detroit hasn’t had in far too long. The Lions boasted a running game that ranked last in the league in 2017 and was especially bad on 3rd and 4th down conversions. They converted 38.8% of 3rd downs and ranked dead last on 4th downs with an 11% success rate. 1 for 9. You can’t win with that. In comparison, the reigning Superbowl champion Philadelphia Eagles converted 65.4% of their 4th down opportunities. General Manager Bob Quinn was particularly dismayed. “All those critical situations — like, it’s goal-line, and we can’t run the ball half a yard — that bothered me,” Quinn said.
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So obviously, you improve your run game. Quinn drafted Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson in the 2nd round. Johnson looks a quality addition. He’s quick off the mark and runs hard. It won’t be too long before he’s running the show in Motown (pardon the pun). They also snapped up free agent veteran power back and back-to-back Superbowl champion, LeGarrette Blount. It’s a huge step up from Ameer Abdullah but Detroit is still a pass-first offense. If the run doesn’t get going, the Jets defense will know what’s coming.
Matt Stafford v Sam Darnold. It’s really easy to have the 2 Quarterbacks as a key matchup, but with Darnold making his first NFL start against a guy who debuted in the same way, it just makes sense. Stafford has become one of the true gunslingers. He’s played 16 games in 7 straight seasons and not thrown for less than 4,200 yards or 20 touchdowns in any of them. Darnold has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck for his arm strength, accuracy, and field awareness. Luck, for what it’s worth, has thrown for at least 3,800 yards and 23 touchdowns in all of his full (or near full) seasons. These boys love to air it out.
Sam Darnold stars on debut, throwing 3 touchdowns but ultimately, his 2 interceptions and a 350+ yard day from Stafford is too much for the Jets to overcome. Lions in a shootout. Final: Detroit 41, New York 31.
Rams at Raiders
Rams – 5 | Over / Under 47.5
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams went from dead last to first in the space of one offseason. Last in 2016 to first in 2017 in the NFC West. Last in offense with an NFL low 224 total points to first with 478 total points scored and an average of 29.9 points per game. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the playoffs got the better of a young side making its first playoff appearance in 13 years, as the 6th seeded Atlanta Falcons knocked them out in the Wild Card Round. Quarterback Jared Goff proved he could play with the big boys, bouncing back from a horrible rookie season. Todd Gurley also found his form again with an MVP-worthy year. The receiving unit improved, and the defense was one of the best in the league. It’s hard to pinpoint any single factor as the reason for the resurgence, but if I was going to guess, it was definitely Sean McVay. The Rams have retooled heading into 2018, adding some huge pieces in Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib, and are aiming to keep taking steps towards the ultimate success.
Why They Will Win
Defense. The Rams have arguably the best defensive player in the NFL all wrapped up. Aaron Donald just signed a massive contract worth $135M ($87M guaranteed) to keep him in LA for a further 6 years. The offense was the big talking point in LA last year, but the defense wasn’t. And the Rams boosted it when they picked up Ndamukong Suh to start beside Donald, and cornerback’s Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters who might already be considered one of the top duos in the league. Mark Barron is the sole returning starting linebacker after they lost Robert Quinn, Connor Barwin, and Alec Ogletree, and with them, 15.5 sacks. Barron isn’t a renowned run stopper, but that’s not an issue when the RB’s can’t get past the defensive line. Throw in LaMarcus Joyner at the back, and this unit is poised to make life miserable for offenses all year long.
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And Why They Won’t
Chemistry. Just getting in a bunch of big names during the offseason doesn’t guarantee success. Just ask the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles. Fitting all of the ego’s and playing styles into a different system has its own challenges. There’s very little doubt that Talib, Peters, and Suh are all huge personalities. And Brandin Cooks joins the already league’s best offense after getting knocked clear across the country, from Superbowl LII to LA. It’s just week 1 and will be the first time this entire squad takes a field together. It wouldn’t surprise to see them working out some kinks during this contest.
Jared Goff must continue to grow. He has a supreme wide receiver group now with Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, but like Stafford, his tight ends are almost non-existent. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett top the depth chart here and combined for just 539 yards and 3 touchdowns from 41 receptions (77 total targets). They need to prove that they can be a consistent option for the young QB.
And then there’s the Raiders. I probably don’t need to tell you what has been happening in Oakland over the past few weeks, but I will. The Oakland brass spent a motza getting their man in new HC Jon Gruden. The last time Gru was coaching the Raiders (from 1998 to 2001), he took the side from the last place in the AFC West to consecutive 8-8 seasons, and then on to division titles in 2000 and 2001. The best year was in 2000 when the team went 12-4 and only lost in the Conference Championship game to eventual Superbowl winners, Baltimore. This time? He’s been the coach for all of 6 months and has already traded their best player to Chicago over a salary dispute, traded a 3rd round pick for a troubled wide receiver (who he has since cut), traded a 5th round pick for backup QB AJ McCarron, and is taking the oldest roster in the NFL into this season. And he’s done all of that within the past week.
Why They Will Win
Derek Carr. If the Raiders are going to get the job done here, it’s going to have to be on the back (or arm) of their Quarterback. Surprising to no one, Carr hasn’t been at his best as he has dealt with a broken leg, broken bones in his back and the recovery from those injuries. Fortunately, though, Gruden has got the best out of his Quarterbacks in the past. Rich Gannon was a superstar from 1999 to 2001 under Gruden’s tutelage and Oakland is hoping he can similarly elevate Carr’s game. They’re not alone though. Amari Cooper is looking likely for a solid bounce-back season, while Jordy Nelson joins the wide receiver corps and provides a huge outside presence. Doug Martin also signed on to partner Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and add another wrinkle to the attack. All this and a clean bill of health gives Carr plenty of options as he tries to return to form.
And Why They Won’t
Defense. This is a battle of polar opposite defenses. One side is bringing in talent and retaining one of the best defenders in the NFL with a big money deal. The other is trading away one of the best defenders in the NFL due to salary. This unit lost its money man and that’s hard to recover from. Even with Mack, the Raiders were one of the worst defenses in the early parts of 2017. Through the first 11 games, the team hadn’t recorded a single interception. Not one. DC Ken Norton Jr was fired at that point and replaced with John Pagano, and the side looked much sharper to finish the season. However, improving and facing the Rams offense are two very different prospects.
Jon Gruden v Raiders Nation. Fans are quickly turning against the Coach after what Gruden has pulled in the last few days. This fan base isn’t the most forgiving of people, and they’ve had to endure plenty of hard times in recent years. I believe they were genuinely excited by the appointment originally, but Gruden’s certainly not winning them over with the way he’s setting up the team now. Gruden was a savior in this town once, and hopefully, history repeats itself. The black and silver deserve to have some pride restored. However, it’s hard to see that happening this year after the team traded away Khalil Mack. The Raiders faithful look set for another long year. It will be interesting to see how Jon is greeted by the home fans on Monday night.
I haven’t felt this bad since we lost the f***ing Super Bowl to Tampa and Gruden. Gruden murdered me twice. In 20 years. #RaiderNation
— Raider Nation (@TheOnlyNation) September 1, 2018
Oakland can’t get any pressure on Goff and he picks them apart for 3 touchdowns and 400 yards. Gurley gets 1 score each from running and receiving. And Gruden gets booed whenever he’s on the big screen. Final: Los Angeles 31, Oakland 13.
- The Jets went 9-6-1 ATS last season despite the poor record, which just goes to show how little respect they were given by oddsmakers all year. And the Lions went 8-7-1 ATS with their 9 wins.
- The Rams had a solid 9-7 ATS as they won the NFC West. The Raiders crashed to 5-9-2 ATS, which mirrored their collapse during the year. Gruden’s team lost both opening games in the seasons he took over the coaching role, so I’m expecting a similar result here. Especially as they adjust to life in the post-Mack era.
Total Points Over/Under
- The Lions smashed the overs 10 times from their 16 games last year, despite averaging nearly 49 points per contest. The O/U in this one is a comparatively low 45 points and I’m thinking it will be another high scoring affair. The Jets went 8-8 with a 42.5 total points average.
- Both the Rams and Raiders went at 11-5 in their totals games. Overs for the Rams at 50 total points per game. And unders for the Raiders at 42 points. So who knows how this will end up.
LA Rams (-210), Det/NYJ Total Points Over 45 (-110), LA Rams -4.5 (-110)
I’ve grabbed a couple of player props that I like for Monday’s games:
- Player to Score a Touchdown: Quincy Enunwa (+180) – I’m taking a flyer on Enunwa to get into the endzone. According to our friends at The Quant Edge (TQE), the Lions allowed 1.31 passing touchdowns a game in 2017, compared with a slightly better 0.94 rushings scores. Darnold in his first NFL action might lean on some safer throws throughout the day, so his slot receiver should see some solid targets.
- Player to Score First Touchdown: Todd Gurley (+160) – Not really a long shot here. TQE head to head stats tells me that the Raiders were one of the best defenses in limiting rushing touchdowns a year ago, allowing just 0.44 per game. Only thing now is that they no longer have Khalil Mack getting into the backfield at will. As soon as the Rams get down into goalline range, they’re handing it off to their 57 million dollar man.
- Player to Score Raiders First Touchdown: Doug Martin (+580) – The Rams allowed twice as many rushing touchdowns per game as the Raiders did (0.88). On the other hand, Marshawn Lynch scored less than once every 2 games. So doesn’t it seem just likely enough for Martin to come in and vulture a score when (if) Oakland get close enough. It’s always the way (I’m looking at you Tevin Coleman).
Daniel is an up and coming writer and longtime lover of the NFL. Even though he is Australian, he is a long-suffering Philly Eagles fan and has played Fantasy Football for over 10 years. Since the early games kick off around 4am Monday morning in Australia, he will regularly be found on the couch, with a large coffee in hand and watching Redzone through bleary eyes. Daniel married the love of his life in 2012, and the couple are happily raising twin boys (also as Eagles fans, hopefully).