For the first time during the 2018 NFL season, the Oakland Raiders are favorites and at 0-3, it’s safe to say this game is a must-win. After some weird travel, the Raiders return home to host the Cleveland Browns, who enter the game on a one-game winning streak at 1-1-1 on the season.
These aren’t your typical Browns, however, as the expectation of being competitive is a realistic one given the depth of talent everywhere on their roster. Still, the Raiders are three-point favorites in this one and after not trailing until the fourth quarter of all three of their games, it’s time for them to close one out.
Baker, Baker, Baker
I felt a lot better about this game when Tyrod Taylor was the Browns quarterback, but after a slow start last Thursday against the New York Jets, Baker Mayfield entered the game and changed everything. Mayfield finished the game 17/23 for 203 yards as the Browns outscored the Jets 18-3 in the second half to win by four.
Mayfield is a guy that expects to win every game he plays in and with the Raiders at 0-3 so far, you better believe the Browns are coming in with plans on extending their winning streak.
Can they hold up?
For two straight weeks, the Raiders have collapsed in games they should have won. Now, you could make excuses in both games (short week, altitude, heat in Denver, early morning, heat, humidity in Miami), but your W-L record doesn’t care about those. Now that they’re at home in the confines of their own stadium, there are no more excuses.
Well, okay, yes, the Browns have had three extra days to prepare coming off their Thursday night game — but still. No excuses this Sunday.
Whose turn to catch the ball?
Week 1, Jared Cook blew up. Week 2? Amari Cooper’s turn. Then, in Week 3 it was Jordy Nelson’s turn to break out. So… Martavis Bryant time? A better solution would just be to find more than one guy who can be trusted so that defenses can’t key in on one guy, but we’ll see if the Raiders can make that happen. While it’s nice that three different guys have taken turns in carrying the load, there’s a reason the Raiders are 0-3 with 17 total second-half points this season (and just three fourth quarter points). They need some more help.
Punch it in!
Entering Week 4, the Raiders are sixth in the league in yards — averaging just over 400 yards per game. The problem? They’re 28th in points per game.
While the Oakland offense and Jon Gruden probably haven’t gotten the credit they deserve from a yardage perspective, they’re going to need to start capitalizing on drives in order to turn this thing around. So far, the Raiders have converted just 50 percent of their trips into the Red Zone into touchdowns.
Make a play
For all the flack the Raiders offense has gotten, it’s really the defense that has been the biggest problem — and among the biggest flaws is their inability to create turnovers. In three games, the Raiders have forced just one turnover. Now, with a rookie quarterback on the opposing sidelines, the Raiders need to make at least two game-altering plays in order to turn this season around.
Prediction: 24-14, Raiders
I think this is the week the Raiders put a complete game together. I think the Raiders take control early (as usual) and find the energy to hold on as the defense steps up and keeps Baker Mayfield in check. Time to cross that zero off and get the new season headed in the right direction.