The Raiders are opening their season in a familiar place. For the third time in four years, they'll kick off their campaign on "Monday Night Football."
But Monday marks an important milestone, as the Raiders will play their first regular-season game in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium. It will be hard to replace The Black Hole in Oakland, but Raider Nation is officially back.
Up first is a dangerous Baltimore team that is coming off its third straight playoff run under Lamar Jackson. The Ravens finally won a game last season, but expectations are high for this team to go further, even in a wildly competitive AFC North.
Can the Raiders get things off to a strong start after improving from 7-9 to 8-8 in their first season in Las Vegas? Or will the Ravens start their march back to the playoffs? Let's break down the keys to this AFC matchup.
Monday Night Football: Baltimore at Las Vegas
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 13 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Ravens overcome their early-season injuries?
Few teams have had a tougher training camp than Baltimore, which has lost some of its best weapons before playing a single regular-season game.
The running game, in particular, has been decimated after J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL on Aug. 28 and Gus Edwards suffered the same injury on Sept. 9. The Ravens even lost Justice Hill, their 2019 fourth-rounder, to a torn Achillies on Sept. 2. That leaves Ty'Son Williams, undrafted out of BYU in 2020, as the only returning running back.
Baltimore did bring in Latavius Murray on a one-year deal — and signed Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to its practice squad — but the expectation is that Williams will be given the chance to earn the starting role. Still, keep in mind that the Ravens like to spread the ball around. They haven't given any running back a 60-percent ball share since Ray Rice in 2012.
Of course, at the same practice Edwards went down, All-Pro corner Marcus Peters also tore his ACL. And first-round wide receiver Rashod Bateman is beginning the season on injured reserve after undergoing groin surgery in August. There will be plenty of unexpected question marks in the lineup to start the season.
2. Can the Raiders bring pressure on Lamar Jackson?
Teams have been trying to figure out how to stop the 2019 MVP for three seasons to limited success, but without a pass rush, teams haven't stood much of a chance.
This could be a problem for a Las Vegas team that finished 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks last season. The Raiders fared better in other metrics, such as hurry rate (11.5 percent, fourth) and pressure rate (23.5 percent, 16th), but they'll need a stronger all-around effort against one of the league's best quarterbacks.
Las Vegas did make a few upgrades on defense this offseason. They signed edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to a two-year $26 million deal and brought in linebackers K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman to shore up the strong side. They also used five of their first six draft picks on defenders, most notably including safety Trevon Moehrig.
Jackson has only faced the Raiders once before, to mixed results. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions but also picked up 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground and was sacked just once.
3. What will the return of fans mean for the Raiders?
Yes, the Raiders played a home preseason game in front of 50,101 fans, but it's hard to take away much from an exhibition game. The regular season is a different animal.
The Raiders have historically had a strong home-field advantage, and that was sorely missing last season. Home-field advantage was down across the NFL, but the Raiders went 2-6 at Allegiant Stadium while going 6-2 on the road. This comes after going 18-14 at home and 11-21 on the road over the final four seasons in Oakland.
For his career, Derek Carr has played much better at home than on the road, but he didn't show much of a home-road split in 2020. His completion rate was slightly higher (69.0 to 65.6 percent), but his yards per attempt were lower (7.8 to 8.1), with similar TD-to-INT numbers (13-4 vs. 14-5). Perhaps a more raucous crowd will bring more out of the signal-caller.
The Ravens are banged up, but they have the superior quarterback and superior defense. Even without their top running backs, Baltimore is still a dangerous running team, and Las Vegas ranked 24th in rushing defense last season. Raiders fans will undoubtedly be fired up, but that won't be enough to bridge the talent gap between the teams.