Today's Free Picks for
Posted on Sept 5
Oakland under 9½ -120
We’re always preaching that nobody can predict the outcome of games because of in-game variance that causes so many twists and turns in almost every football game. Thus, teams that were very fortunate last year are in line for regression while teams’ that got unlucky are in line for improvement. We’ll now take that information and apply it to Oakland’s season win total to easily go under the number.
First off, the Raiders got a healthy season from its expensive offensive line with its five starters playing 74 of 80 games. Five of those missed games were from right tackle Austin Howard, who was generally considered to be the line's weakest link before being cut this season, a week before the opener. Key backup Menelik Watson is also gone, to Denver, so a less effective season from the line could cancel out any improvements from luring Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. Over/under win totals do not take injuries into consideration because they are unforeseeable but there is practically no chance of the Raiders staying as healthy as they did last year.
How many times have you heard this, “Whoever wins the turnover battle will win the game”?. Turnovers won or lost is not a skill. The Raiders were opportunistic enough to produce the league's sixth-best takeaway rate on a per-possession basis. Combined with Derek Carr chopping his interception rate in half, the Raiders' turnover differential hit plus-16, which was tied with the Chiefs for the best mark in the league. Winning the turnover battle wins games but turnover margin from year to year is markedly inconsistent. Need proof? From 1989 to 2015, there were 41 teams to post a turnover differential between plus-15 and plus-20. Their average turnover margin was plus-17.3. The following year, those teams had an average turnover differential of plus-2.3. They fell off by an average of 15 turnovers. Apply that to the Raiders last year and maybe they’re a .500 team. We say that because the Raiders, not coincidentally, were one of the best teams in close games in recent memory. Jack Del Rio's team went 8-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. Now apply the turnover margin to that and it should come as no surprise that teams’ with that sort of record also struggle to keep it up. The Raiders have one of the 25 best records in one-score games from 1989 on. During their standout seasons, those other 24 teams were a combined 131-6-1 (.953) in one-score games. The following year, those same teams -- stocked with quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Steve Young -- went a combined 87-88 (.497) in games decided by seven points or fewer.
In Week’s 1, 4, 5 and 8 last year, Oakland was incredibly lucky to win. There were other week’s too in which many things had to go right but those aforementioned weeks stand out as extremely good fortune:
In Week 1, Oakland beat the New Orleans Saints when the Raiders scored a TD with 47 seconds left to come within one point before successfully converting a two-pointer to make it 35-34. Del Rio's decision to go for two, could just as easily turned into a loss.
In Week 4, the Raiders nearly blew a 17-10 lead against the Tennessee Titans when Andre Johnson caught a game-tying touchdown pass on the 13-yard line, only to be flagged for a questionable offensive pass interference call. The Raiders held on for the win.
The next week, the Chargers were set to kick a 36-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 2:07 to go, only for holder Drew Kaser to fumble the snap.
In Week 8, the Raiders went to overtime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland committed penalties on each of its first two drives in overtime to push itself out of comfortable field goal range, turning one drive into a 52-yard miss and another into a punt. This time, the defense came up with two stops, giving the offense a third chance, which Carr turned into a touchdown.
It's not to say the Raiders wouldn't have won any of those games otherwise, of course, but most would agree they were extremely fortunate to come away with five wins in five tries. History strongly suggests that Oakland’s luck in close games is extremely unlikely to occur again the following season. The arrival of Marshawn Lynch might help the Raiders grind out the clock in the fourth quarter, but the perfectly timed offensive pass interference penalties and failed field goals won't stick around.
The Indianapolis Colts have posted a .714 win percentage in seven-point contests (or less) since the 2012 season and the New England Patriots posted a .639 and nobody else even tops .600. That hadn't been the case for Carr before 2016. He and the Raiders were 2-5 in one-score contests in 2014 and 5-5 in 2015. For the Raiders to win 10 games, more things will have to go right this year than they did last year because Oakland’s schedule is so difficult.
Three of Oakland’s first four games will be on the road at Tennessee, Washington and Denver. They could go 0-3 in those games. Unlikely, but it’s certainly possible. The game against Washington is in prime time on Sunday night. Oakland’s schedule for the next five games is not easy either, as they’ll host games versus Baltimore, the Chargers and K.C while playing at Buffalo and Miami in back-to-back weeks. Games’ versus K.C and Miami are both prime time games too. Winning in Buffalo is rarely easy. There is not one gimme there and by the end of that stretch, the Raiders will be nine games in with a third of those being prime time affairs. Games before and after prime time events cause look-aheads and letdowns. We’re not counting on that, we’re merely pointing out that prime time games are emotionally charged and there are before and after effects, usually.
Oakland’s final seven games will be against New England, Denver, the Giants, K.C., Philly, Dallas and the Chargers. That would be zero easy games in the final seven weeks. No Cleveland, no San Fran, no Jacksonville, no Houston, no Chicago, no Detroit, no L.A. Rams or no easy games out of 16 means the Raiders will have to get a ton of lucky breaks, stay healthy and play near flawless football to get to 10 wins and we’re very confident that they won’t get there with five of their 16 games being prime timers. Under gets the call.
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Oakland under 9½ -120 (Risking 3.6 units - To Win: 3.00)