Friday, September 28, 2012

Oakland Raiders vs Denver Broncos: DEN -6.5 (Pinnacle)

Markets

Back in the offseason, Cantor threw up the obligatory -7 on this game in favor of the Broncos.  That made sense given all the turnover in Oakland combined with the addition of Peyton Manning.  Even after two weeks of the season, the look-ahead line remained the same.

However, this week the game re-opened at -6.  Bettors immediately recognized that was a bit short and bet it to -6.5.  Now as we get closer to game-time a lot of books have pushed it all the way to -7.  I like this at anything up to a touchdown, and you can always throw it in a teaser.

Strength of Opponent

If you rely on stats like I do, you'll know that most of the September numbers are skewed quite a bit.  First, the sample size is small. Second, it's hard to weight the rankings based on opponent without knowing the contenders from the pretenders.

Without adjusting for the opponent, I have the Broncos graded as six point favorites.  Yet, there's a stark difference in the schedules of these two teams. Both have played the Steelers, but the Raiders had the Chargers at home and Dolphins on the road. Conversely, the Broncos played the Falcons on the road in prime-time and the Texans at home.  Those very well might be the two best teams in the NFL at the moment.

Once you factor this in, the Broncos grade out over a touchdown on the line.  Peyton is still throwing ducks past 20 yards, but he's going to be more comfortable each and every week and finally gets to play against a below average secondary. 

Despite playing three tough defenses, the Broncos still rank in the top half of the league in key statistical categories (passing yards, drive success rate, third down/red zone percentage).  The Raiders rank in the bottom half in those same areas.

They were hoping to get a lot more production from their D-line this year and the lack of pass rush has only exasperated the problems on the back end.  They signed Andre Carter this week and it's possible he suits up, but I wouldn't expect an extensive role this early.

Late Surge a Sign of Things to Come?

I took the Steelers last week and felt pretty good about the pick for most of the game. Then everything that could have gone wrong, did.  The Raiders scored 13 unanswered points in a 4th quarter momentum swing and won the game outright.

The problem here is it happened at home and they benefited from a timely turnover as Pittsburgh was marching down the field.  I'm not sold on Palmer yet. His pass-catching weapons aren't going to scare anyone. They lost Darrius Heyward-Bey to a nasty concussion, so there will be a four WR rotation this Sunday.  Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Derek Hagan, and Juron Criner.  Enough said.

If Oakland wants to keep this close, they'll attack Denver's depleted linebacking crew on the ground.  Nate Irving, Joe Mays, and DJ Williams are out of the lineup.  Keith Brooking needs to step up here because they only have rookies in reserve. 

The other challenge facing the Raiders e is the long field they'll be facing for most of the game. Oakland rank near the bottom of the league in average net field position.  Hoping that Palmer can consistently put together mistake-free drives is asking a lot in this spot.

Bottom Line

A lot of people are going to stay away from this game. Peyton Manning was once an automatic bet by the public, but that trust has waned.  McFadden seems poised for a big game given the Broncos injuries on defense.  And the Raiders are not going to be intimidated by a divisional rival, either.

Yet, I can't ignore how bad this Raiders team really is. They've been plagued by injuries at both the receiver spot and cornerback all season. Palmer is still getting used to the WCO and the defense is lacking the kind of personnel needed to make this multi-scheme system work.  The Broncos finally get a break in their schedule and should be able to take care of business.

NFL Pick: DEN -6.5.

The rest of my Week 4 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.