One of the most overlooked and underappreciated games in Week 1 of the NFL season features the Las Vegas Raiders hitting the road to take on the Carolina Panthers. This will be the first meeting between the two franchises since 2016. Jon Gruden’s Raiders are listed as three-point road favorites with an over/under of 48 points.
Gruden returned to the Raiders with great bravado a couple of years ago, only to go 11-21 over his first two seasons back in charge. Even with more than half of his 10-year contract remaining, Gruden is starting to feel some pressure. He needs to start winning games and get the Raiders to the playoffs, especially if they hope to win over fans in their new hometown.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are entering a new era in 2020. Ron Rivera is out after nine seasons in Carolina, and so is quarterback Cam Newton. Enter Matt Rhule, who performed magic acts at both Temple and Baylor, getting both programs turned around faster than expected. However, Rhule’s only experience in the NFL is one season as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012. He’s entering a brave new world and finds himself coaching in arguably the NFL’s toughest division.
Don’t You Forget About Me
The biggest story in Carolina entering the season is Teddy Bridgewater signing as the new starting quarterback. While he started five games for the Saints last season, Bridgewater hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2015, prior to the gruesome knee injury that nearly ended his career. There is lingering skepticism regarding Bridgewater and for a good reason.
However, the Panthers still have Christian McCaffrey, who is arguably the best non-quarterback in football. Bridgewater also has blossoming star wide receiver D.J. Moore and newly-acquired Robby Anderson at his disposal, as the Panthers have continued to solidify their offense around their new quarterback.
In Week 1, the Carolina offense will be facing a Raiders unit that gave up 26 points per game last season. The Raiders got ten sacks from Maxx Crosby last year, but the rest of their pass rush was lacking. If that doesn’t change, the Las Vegas secondary could be exposed against the speed of Carolina’s receivers.
“Show Me” Time
For the Las Vegas offense, the pressure is on quarterback Derek Carr, as the team doesn’t appear sold on him as the long-term solution under center. To Carr’s credit, he completed 70% of his passes last year despite an unheralded group of receivers outside of tight end Darren Waller. Carr could have a similar challenge this year with rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards in the starting lineup. Those two need to prove they are ready to play right away because the secret is out about running back Josh Jacobs, who rushed for over 1,100 yards last year.
Teams like the Panthers may look to bottle up Jacobs and force Carr and the young Vegas receivers to beat them. Of course, the Panthers are rebuilding defensively with three rookies starting and seven rookies featured in their two-deep packages.
The team’s first two selections in this year’s draft, Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos, will both be starters on the defensive line. Whether or not they are ready for life in the NFL trenches will profoundly impact Carolina’s defense, especially early in the season.
Benefit of the Doubt
Bridgewater, McCaffrey, and the Panthers might deserve a more optimistic outlook for this game. After all, a West Coast team coming off a losing season is a road favorite for a 1:00 game on the East Coast. Nothing about that feels right, especially when Carolina will have the best player on the field in McCaffrey. While this game could go either way, bet on the Panthers +3 as home underdogs in Week 1.