By: Damian Adams
Week one of the NFL season is here, it started with an awesome game on Thursday night as the Denver Broncos squeaked past the Carolina Panthers, 21-20. The NFL has a plethora of good games this weekend and one of the more intriguing match-ups is the Oakland Raiders going to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Both teams finished last season, 7-9, leaving one fan base hopeful of a bright future and the other wishing it was 2009. During the last ten seasons under Sean Payton, the culture of the Saints has changed and “Who Dat Nation” now expects to be in the playoff hunt year in and year out. During that same time span the Raiders became the laughingstock of the league, not making the playoffs once during that time. Now the Raiders are looking to make the same type of culture change the Saints made. This is a match-up of two teams who are looking to take a step forward this season and go to the playoffs.
In 2015, the Oakland Raiders made huge strides in the right direction and continued going in that direction with some of the moves they made this off-season. The biggest move was adding Bruce Irvin to the defense. Last season the Raiders had 38 sacks which was 16th in the NFL, square in the middle of the pack. This year that should improve with the combination of Bruce Irvin and an improving Khalil Mack, who had 15 sacks last season. There is no reason, besides injury, that Mack shouldn’t repeat this success or improve on his stats from last year. Khalil Mack and the Raiders defense getting pressure on Brees is the key to the Raiders winning.
If the Saints want to pass the rock around the field like they are accustomed to doing, Drew Brees has to stay on his feet. New Orleans cannot expect the offensive line to do this by themselves, the real key to protecting Brees will be the assistance of the running backs, and the tight ends in the protection scheme. Sean Payton should also incorporate some of those signature screen passes and utilize C.J. Spiller’s speed, that will definitely slow up the pass rush.
In 2015, the New Orleans Saints defense was horrific, awful, bad, terrible, disgusting, and all other words that are the opposite of good. During the off-season the Saints tried to beef up the front seven with additions like James Laurinaitis and Nick Fairley. These additions need to help the Saints put pressure on Derek Carr. Last season the Raiders passed the ball 63.33% of the time, ninth highest in the NFL. If the black and gold want to stop the Carr and Amari Cooper connection, putting Carr on his back is the best way to do that.
Special teams will play a big part in this game as well. Last season the Raiders seemed to always have good field position, starting their drives at the 29 yard line on average. This was the seventh best in the NFL. The saints need to make each drive hard for them by controlling the field position battle. Both teams did a great job of taking care of the ball last season, Oakland only turned the ball over on 10.3% of their drives, and New Orleans only turned the ball over on 10.4% of their drives. Everything points to this game being a close and high scoring affair. I predict the Saints will win 34-28.