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NFL forecast: Will Raiders mess up must-lose game?

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 18, 2018 02:23 AM
Derek Carr of Raiders
Derek Carr directs Oakland's 30th-ranked scoring offense (16.3 points per game), and the Raiders head to the desert without several key weapons.

Without a doubt, quarterback Derek Carr will give an honest effort in an attempt to win Sunday. Carr is not a quitter. But in this case, it’s best for the Oakland Raiders if he’s not a winner.

In the race to the bottom, this is a must-lose game for Jon Gruden, who has ruined the Raiders’ season in his quest to claim the No. 1 spot in the NFL Draft. Oakland (1-8) cannot afford to beat Arizona (2-7) and risk squandering the top pick.

Gruden says he’s not tanking, but what else would he say? His actions say otherwise. When the coach with personnel control trades or releases three of his best players — Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Bruce Irvin — that’s the definition of tanking.

Gruden has all but stripped Carr of his confidence, and his offense failed to score in double digits in three of the past four games. Oakland is 30th in scoring offense (16.3), and the Raiders head to the desert without injured wideouts Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson and running back Marshawn Lynch. A team that could not win at full strength is now running at half speed.

Handicapping this game is more about motivation than matchups. The Cardinals actually want to win because they have a franchise QB in rookie Josh Rosen and first-year coach Steve Wilks is desperate to save his job. “My mind is not really on draft picks right now,” Wilks told reporters this week. “That is a loser’s mentality.”

Wilks’ decision to fire conservative offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and switch to Byron Leftwich was the right move. Arizona has rediscovered running back David Johnson, who had 98 yards on 21 carries and added seven receptions for 85 yards in a competitive 24-16 loss at Kansas City.

The Cardinals can lose only if the mistake-prone Rosen hands it to the Raiders, who are 4-16-3 ATS in their past 23 games and 1-9-2 in their past 12 away from home. Oakland would be winless this season if not for an officiating fiasco in Week 4 against Cleveland.

This line opened at 3½ and is up to 5 for obvious reasons. Play the Cards. Gruden is trying to deal himself a losing hand.

Four more coin flips for Week 11 (home team in CAPS):

* Eagles (plus-7½) over SAINTS: It’s looking more like the defending Super Bowl champs could miss the playoffs. The NFC East is a mess, so Philadelphia (4-5) is not out of it by any means, but the problems are piling up. The Eagles, according to their opponents’ combined records (40-23), face the most difficult remaining schedule in the league. Philadelphia has been hit hard by injuries and the latest player to fall was cornerback Ronald Darby, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s loss to Dallas. This is the wrong time to have a depleted secondary. Drew Brees is putting on a passing clinic, connecting on 77.3 percent of his throws with 21 touchdowns and only one pick, and New Orleans ranks No. 1 in scoring offense at 36.7 points per game. The Saints, with eight straight wins and seven point-spread covers in a row, seem impervious to flat spots. It’s tempting to take the points with Carson Wentz. This is a contrarian buy-low play because the Eagles are ugly ‘dogs against the league’s hottest team in the hostile Superdome. I bet this at 8, however, and the best number is gone.

* REDSKINS (plus-3) over Texans: During a six-game win streak, Houston has won four coin-flip decisions. Washington is off a deceiving 16-3 win at Tampa Bay in which the Redskins allowed 501 yards and forced only one punt. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will move the offense, and Houston’s defensive front is a tough matchup for Washington’s banged-up offensive line. The Redskins can offset the pass rush with quick throws by Alex Smith and tough running by Adrian Peterson. (In all honesty, this is a replacement play due to a good number. I preferred the Giants at -1 before that number moved to 2½ and also considered Jacksonville plus-5½.)

* Vikings (plus-2½) over BEARS: Minnesota, the preseason favorite in the NFC North, opened as a 3-point underdog at Soldier Field. I bet this early but still will use it here. Chicago stopped a 10-game losing streak against division opponents by beating Detroit 34-22 in Week 10. The new-look Bears are no longer hibernating mostly because of Matt Nagy and Khalil Mack. It was a steep price to pay to get Mack from Oakland, but he’s the primary pass-rushing force for the league’s No. 4 scoring defense (19.4 points per game). Nagy has tailored a much more creative offense for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who has 17 touchdown passes to four interceptions in the past six games. The Vikings won four of five, losing only to the Saints, going into their bye and emerge from the week off in good health. Running back Dalvin Cook is ready to roll and a ground attack is just what quarterback Kirk Cousins needs. Mike Zimmer has made some defensive adjustments and will show Trubisky new looks. What this really comes down to is a role reversal — the Vikings are suddenly underdogs to a team that was stuck at the bottom of the division for a long time. How will the Bears adjust to the favorite’s role?

* Chiefs (plus-3½) over RAMS: Why did it take the NFL so long to discover the playing field in Mexico City was a rancho de cabras? (Goat ranch.) The switch to Los Angeles means one point to the line, but I was betting the Chiefs regardless. A pair of 9-1 teams feature two of the league’s top three offenses. The total of 63½, believed to be the highest in history, indicates a shootout between Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, who have combined for 53 touchdown passes. But the running attacks could take center stage. The Rams’ Todd Gurley is the NFL rushing leader with 988 yards, and the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt ranks fourth with 754 yards. The L.A. run defense was just shredded by Seattle for 273 yards, and Kansas City ranks 29th in total defense. The K.C. defense is improving, however, and most so-called sharps will look under the high total. It’s tough to say there is a sharp side here. Goff just lost his most reliable receiver, Cooper Kupp, and Mahomes has a full arsenal of weapons, so that sign points to the Chiefs.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 25-24-1

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