NFL forecast: Carr rock solid, but Raiders fragile favorites

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 26, 2017 07:33 AM
The Oakland offense has problems, but quarterback Derek Carr is not to blame. The Raiders are fragile favorites laying 4½ points against the Denver Broncos and their new starting quarterback.
© USA Today Sports Images

It’s time to play the blame game in Oakland, where last year’s feel-good story has turned rotten. But if the Raiders have 99 problems, Derek Carr is not one.

Carr’s numbers have slipped this season along with the Raiders’ win total, yet he remains a legitimate franchise quarterback in a league riddled with question marks at the game’s most important position.

Is there a future for Paxton Lynch? That’s a question the Denver Broncos are desperate to answer. After sifting through the garbage and discarding Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, the Broncos are finally giving John Elway’s first-round pick from 2016 a shot, and this is a good spot for the experiment. Elway recently ridiculed the Broncos for being a “soft” team, and the same could be said of the defense Lynch will face Sunday in Oakland.

When the Broncos (3-7) and Raiders (4-6) battle in the AFC West basement, irony will be evident everywhere.

Oakland coach Jack Del Rio is a defensive guy, but he pinned the problems on another coach last week by firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in a move that proved unpopular in the locker room. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were loyal to Norton and especially ticked off.

Truth be told, Norton probably needed to go. The Raiders rank near the NFL’s bottom in most defensive categories, allowing 367 yards and 24.7 points per game, and own the only defense in the league with zero interceptions this season. Still, Norton’s dismissal is unlikely to lead to a sudden turnaround.

Del Rio’s has fired two coordinators since January. After Carr posted MVP-quality numbers last season, Del Rio dumped Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. That moved has backfired, considering the Raiders have dropped from No. 6 to 21st in total offense.

A year ago, on the way to 12 wins, Del Rio was the coach who could do no wrong. Now, however, nothing is going right for the Raiders, who are 2-6 in their past eight games. Out of a bye week, the Raiders went to Mexico City and appeared unprepared on both sides of the ball in a 33-8 loss to New England. Tom Brady picked apart the Del Rio/Norton defense by completing 30 of 37 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

So this should be a soft landing spot for Lynch. Elway, who has failed to scout the quarterback position properly, canned offensive coordinator Mike McCoy last week and, ironically, replaced him with Musgrave.

Osweiler was a bust as a starter, going 0-3 with four interceptions, and the popular theory is Lynch cannot possibly be worse. We are about to find out. Denver has dropped six consecutive games, with five of the losses by double digits.

Oakland has one distinct advantage, and it’s at quarterback with Carr.

Both teams are massive flops in the league’s most disappointing division, but Denver still ranks No. 3 in total defense and has a better rushing offense. It’s a stretch to call the Broncos live ‘dogs, but who can trust the Raiders laying 4½ points? This is a bet against a fragile favorite and a reluctant play on Elway’s soft ballers.

Four more picks for Week 12 (home team in CAPS):

* Bears (plus-14) over EAGLES: Chicago’s simplistic game plan is to defend, run the ball and limit mistakes by the quarterback. If Mitchell Trubisky can make a few plays — and the rookie is gaining confidence and looking better each week — the Bears can hang in this game. This is a potential flat spot for Philadelphia, which just dismantled Dallas and has a three-game road trip on deck. The Eagles are coasting to the NFC East title, and Carson Wentz leads the league with 25 touchdown passes, but their motivation might be lacking in this spot.

* Dolphins (plus-16½) over PATRIOTS: In a rare talkative moment, coach Bill Belichick described the Patriots as an “exhausted” team after a trip to Denver and Mexico City. That could mean something, or it could mean nothing. The Patriots (8-2) are back on track for 12-plus wins, yet this could be their flat spot with a three-game road trip on deck. Miami is a mess, obviously, but Matt Moore inspires more confidence than Jay Cutler, a $10 million mistake who buried the Dolphins by throwing three interceptions last week before going out with a concussion.

* COLTS (plus-3½) over Titans: This is another ugly underdog on this week’s hideous schedule. Indianapolis is 4-1 against the spread at home this season, including a 20-17 loss to Pittsburgh before the bye. With Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts had a 10-game win streak against Tennessee, a streak that ended in October with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. The Titans are 1-5-1 ATS in their past seven, and Marcus Mariota is off a four-interception implosion in a blowout loss to the Steelers.

* RAMS (-2½) over Saints: New Orleans is riding an eight-game win streak that serves as a revival for coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. The Rams (7-3) are waking up NFL fans in Los Angeles behind innovative 31-year-old coach Sean McVay. Both teams rank in the league’s top 10 in scoring defense, with the Rams allowing 18.6 points per game and the Saints yielding 19.6. Both teams also rank in the top 10 in scoring offense, with the Rams (30.3) at No. 2 and the Saints (30.2) at No. 3.

These teams are off dramatically different results in Week 11. The Saints stormed back from 15 points down late in the fourth quarter to beat Washington 34-31 in overtime in the Superdome. The Rams hit a tough spot on the road and tasted reality in a 24-7 loss at Minnesota. Those results set up a favorable situation for L.A. After an emotional win, the Saints could be a little flat on the road. New Orleans is the slightly better team, but its defense is banged up, and this is a slightly better spot for the home favorite.

Last week: 2-2-1 against the spread

Season: 29-22-4

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