The Las Vegas Raiders are headed to Denver to play the first game of the post-Jon Gruden era, which comes against the division rival Broncos in an unfriendly environment. The off-field developments regarding Gruden's repugnant emails have been the biggest story in football this week, but the Raiders do still have to go play a game -- and it's easy to see how that might either be too much to handle, or a welcome distraction from events on which the players themselves had no control.
Vegas enters the game having lost back-to-back games after opening the season 3-0, while the same is true of Denver. Each at 3-2 and a game behind the division-leading Los Angeles Chargers, both the Raiders and Broncos need to come away with a Week 6 win in order to keep pace in a division that looks more open than it has been in recent years, what with the Kansas City Chiefs off to just a 2-3 start.
Before we break down the matchup, here's how you can watch the game.
How to watch
Derek Carr vs. Vic Fangio's defense
Carr got off to a great start to the season, completing 88 of 136 passes (64.7 percent) for 1,203 yards (8.8 per attempt), six touchdowns, and two interceptions as the Raiders beat the Ravens, Steelers, and Dolphins to open the season. Over the last two weeks, things have not looked nearly as good. Carr's just 43 of 69 (62.3 percent) for 402 yards (5.8 per attempt), two touchdowns, and two picks.
Importantly, his sack rate has spiked from 5.5 percent to 9.1 percent, an indication that the offensive line changes the Raiders made this offseason are not holding up very well at the moment. Annually one of the NFL's least-pressured passers over the last several years, Carr has faced a muddy pocket on an above-average share of his dropbacks this season, per Tru Media, and that rate is rising in recent weeks. Since barely getting any pressure on Daniel Jones back in Week 1, the Broncos are pressuring QBs more often than the league average, and should be able to get after Carr in this one.
That makes it important for the Raiders to win their matchups on the outside. Denver has a very good secondary and ranks 13th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA, but does not have any cornerback quite as fast as Henry Ruggs. If the Raiders can keep Carr upright, perhaps there will be opportunities available down the field. Failing that, Carr will have to methodically work the ball downfield with underneath routes to Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow -- which is what Fangio's defense wants opponents to do anyway, betting that they won't stay patient enough to check down over and over without eventually making a mistake.
Broncos OL vs. Raiders pass rush
Teddy Bridgewater has been under constant pressure this season, seeing defenders in his face on 39.9 percent of dropbacks. He's been able to weather the rush and complete 33 of 52 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns (plus zero interceptions), but that's not exactly in character for him. Last year, for example, he was only 70 of 123 for 715 yards, one touchdown, and seven picks in those situations.
The Raiders have one of the most productive edge rushers in the league this season in Maxx Crosby, who has two sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and ranks third in the NFL in total pressures. He also ranks fifth in the NFL in the share of pass-rush snaps on which he has pressured the quarterback (15.9 percent), so it's not just about volume of opportunities. He's just beating the man in front of him with regularity. Yannick Ngakoue is up there among the leaders as well, checking in 20th out of 103 qualifiers (100-plus pass rush snaps).
Figuring out a way to keep that duo (plus Carl Nassib, who has around the same pressure rate as Ngakoue but on much fewer snaps) away from Bridgewater to give him enough time to find the likes of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Noah Fant down the field is of paramount concern for Denver in this game.
The Raiders are just not playing very well right now, and obviously have a lot going on outside of football. Perhaps they get a bit of a fired-coach bounce under Rich Bisaccia, but we're betting against that here.
Pick: Broncos 23. Raiders 21