Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 1: Raiders vs Colts

Oakland Raiders vs Indianapolis Colts: IND -9.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In hindsight, it's amazing that this line was once -6.5. It moved to -7 during the first couple weeks of the preseason, but after sharps saw what was really going on in Oakland, money came pouring in fast and furious on Indianapolis.

The line now sits at -9.5, and -10 at square shops. I very rarely ever take a favorite beyond a touchdown, much preferring to tease them down under a field goal. Yet, this isn't a line I see moving in the Raiders direction. I don't know anyone who is going to part with their cash to back what most consider the worst team in the league.

83% of the bets are on the Colts, and I expect it to continue all the way up until kickoff.

When the Raiders have the ball

After the Raiders played the Bears in the preseason, excitement about Terrelle Pryor got a little carried away. He came crashing back down to earth the following week when they had to travel to Seattle and play against a quality defense in a hostile environment.

The question I'm asking myself about this pick isn't whether or not Oakland can stay within 10 points of the Colts, but rather can Pryor lead a garbage time drive for a backdoor cover? Unless Pryor has time to make a few big runs and get some help from the refs with a pass interference call, it's not something I see happening.

To start with, his offensive line is in shambles. The only hope they had for stability disappeared when Jared Veldheer went down in the preseason. They had hopes that rookie Menelik Watson would take his place and develop along the way. Now he's done with an injury, which shifts Khalif Barnes from right tackle over to the left. This leaves Oakland with backups at both tackle spots. The only decent piece they have up front is at center with Stefan Wisniewski.

Robert Mathis will be drooling at the chance to attack Pryor's blindside, and Erik Walden, while not explosive, will have a favorable matchup on the other side.

This is not only going to hurt Pryor's ability to find his receivers, but it should cause problems with run blocking. Darren McFadden is explosive once he has a hole to hit, but he's not the type of guy who's going to juke and jive to make defenders miss.  The Colts run defense got shredded by zone blocking schemes last year, but Oakland has switched to man-blocking. Indy also added Ricky Jean-Francois and Aubrayo Franklin up front as run stoppers.

In the air, Pryor is also going to have a tough time keeping up with Andrew Luck. Adding insult to injury he's going to have to do it with inconsistent pass-catchers. Ford and Moore showed promise in the past, but neither guy is dynamic off the line and both are better fits in supporting roles.

Indy's cornerbacks might be the biggest weakness this season, but Vontee Davis is solid on one side. On the bright side, LaRony Landry and Antoine Bethea are good hitters in space and should be able to contain any big plays that come from the legs of Pryor and McFadden.

If Oakland is going to cover this spread, they'll need Pryor to defy the odds and make plays with his arm, not just his legs.

When the Colts have the ball

Andrew Luck was great as a rookie, but he should be even better with a year under his belt. He should also have better protection as they've beefed up the offensive line, added weapons at the skill positions, and are going towards a more balanced attack.

The Raiders are starting the season with nine new starters on defense, including a completely revamped front seven, with the only exception being Lamarr Houston. The best hope this unit has for 2013 is that they don't embarrass themselves.

With Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield, Luck has someone who is reliable with blitz pickup and a good pass-catcher as an outlet. Vick Ballard should also get some quality reps and is versatile enough to lineup anywhere.  Look for a lot of exploited mismatches against a linebacking crew in need of an identity.

On the outside, can the Raiders lock down the likes of Reggie Wayne?  T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey can stretch the field vertically and both will see favorable one-on-one matchups. Fleener and Allen can cause schematic nightmares for the Raiders if the Colts elect to use more two-tight end sets.

If the Raiders has quality shutdown corners on the outside, it would give this defense a fighting chance to be respectable, but they'll be relying heavily on Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, and rookie D.J. Hayden. That is a big collection of inconsistency right there. Their best days are squarely behind them. Thankfully for Oakland they are stable at safety with Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch.

The offensive line is due for a big improvement with Anthony Castonzo at LT and the new additions of LG David Thomas and Gosder Cherilus at RT. On the flip side, the Raiders DL is worse than it was last year. Lamarr Houston is good against the run, but he's not going to strike fear in the pass rush.

Bottom Line

Better weapons and protection for Luck spells bad news for the Raiders defense. If Porter and Jenkins don't bring the best that they have to offer, this unit is going to get gashed in both phases of the game. And with mediocrity up front, it's asking a lot of this secondary to hold up for 60 minutes against an improving and balanced offense.

Offensively, Terrelle Pryor is no Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or RG3.  Oakland have nothing to lose by starting him, but it's going to take a heroic effort to keep this game close. I expect him to force some throws and make some bad decisions in an attempt to make a splash. Given how raw he is, this should result in some critical mistakes. Their main threat is on the ground and Indy's defense should be ready for it.

Oakland is primed for a long season and it kicks off with a tough matchup on the road in Indianapolis.

NFL Pick: IND -9.5.