Leaving Las Vegas…with a Win?
With the release of the first week of the 2021 NFL schedule, we learned that Baltimore will be on the road to Sin City for Monday Night Football to start the slate. Immediately the Vegas NFL Odds came rolling in. I was excited to see the reaction of Ravens fans to the news, so naturally, I popped over to the team’s social media pages. Predictably, Raiders fans had poked their noses in and were… outspoken, to put it delicately. To put it indelicately, they were obnoxious.
Now I know this is nothing new, and there are plenty of obnoxious fan bases out there. Still, for the fan base of a team with an 8-8 record last season to chirp at a playoff team/perennial contender is ill-advised. Not only do the Ravens enter the 2021 season with much more recent success, but they also appear to be the better team on paper as well.
So, Raider fans, you’ve forced my hand. I recognize how silly it is to be doing a prediction for this matchup with this much time left before kickoff, but your hubris has left me no choice.
I could talk about the history between these two teams, with the Ravens leading the all-time series 9-3. I could talk about how Baltimore is 6-3 on Monday night since 2010. I could even mention that the Raiders haven’t recorded a win against Baltimore since 2016. I could do that, but we’re not fixated on historical success here, because we’re not Raider fans. To quote Michael Scott, “Boom, roasted.”
The last matchup between these two teams came in November of 2018, and the Ravens captured the win in Baltimore, 34-17. The game was closer than the final score makes it look, with the score 20-17 Ravens entering the 4th quarter, but a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and a house call on a fumble recovery by Terrell Suggs sealed the deal. Both of those guys, as well as key playmakers on both sides (Matt Judon, Cyrus Jones, Jared Cook), are no longer rostered by either squad, but it’s the most recent sample we have of these two teams squaring off.
I emphasize this because three years of separation is a LONG time in the NFL. Raider fans may be cocky because they’ve improved since the dismal 2018 campaign that saw them finish 4-12, but they forget: the Ravens haven’t exactly been slacking, either. Since the conclusion of the 2018 campaign, the Ravens have posted a combined 25-7 record in regular season games. The roster has gotten younger and more imposing in many spots, and Lamar Jackson has become… well, Lamar Jackson. A far cry from the guy he was the last time he saw the Raiders, which was his second career start.
Entering this matchup, the Raiders will come in facing one of the premier rushing groups in the NFL, after being tied for 23rd in team rushing defense last season. The Ravens may not be able to depend on Matt Judon sacking Derek Carr on three consecutive plays like he did in the last battle, but the Ravens secondary is likely to present major disruptions to a largely underwhelming Vegas receiving group (now featuring some familiar faces in Willie Snead and John Brown).
If Darren Waller can be contained over the middle (easier said than done), the Ravens’ main focus will fall to containing Josh Jacobs at the line. While Jacobs did top 1,000 yards last season, his efficiency dwindled by almost a full yard per carry, and the Ravens showed a ferocious run-stuffing ability down the stretch last season. The Raiders also did very little to reinforce the middle of their defense, a major weak point that Mark Andrews is probably salivating over as we speak. All in all, the matchups seem to favor the Ravens.
The one thing that the Raiders could cling to as an X-factor could be the environmental distraction that is Las Vegas. The Golden Knights have seen a solid home-ice advantage in the NHL, with theories that this comes from opposing players stretching it too thin partying the night before. Still, between COVID restrictions and Coach Harbaugh wanting to keep these guys focused on Week 1, I have a feeling the players are going to be locked down tighter than the vault at the Bellagio, which should protect them from the “Vegas Flu.”
Regardless of what happens, the prospect of beginning the season in prime time under the bright lights of Las Vegas has me looking forward to the year already. I’ll leave you with this wonderful photo of the last time the Raiders faced the Ravens, and remind you that seasons may come and go, but Mark Davis’ haircut lasts forever.
submitted by Kevin McNelis