Two West Coast teams will conclude the NFL's Week 1 slate when the Oakland Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams in the second game of the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader. The Raiders have been in the news plenty this offseason, most recently because of a transaction that took place over Labor Day weekend.
Last Sunday, the Raiders traded Khalil Mack, a two-time All-Pro and the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, to Chicago for a package of draft picks, headlined by two first-rounders. This game also marks the return of Jon Gruden, who was the Raiders' head coach from 1998-2001.
Meanwhile, the Rams enter this season with high expectations after going 11-5 and winning the NFC West in Sean McVay's first season as head coach. Los Angeles bolstered its roster in the offseason by acquiring defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Marcus Peters via trade and also signed All-Pro running back Todd Gurley and, most recently, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to lucrative contract extensions (Cooks got one too). Simply put, the Rams have their sights on getting to the Super Bowl.
The time the Raiders and Rams, who each have ties to Los Angeles, played each other was in 2014 when the latter was in St. Louis. The last time these two played when both called the City of Angels home was back on Nov. 13, 1994.
Los Angeles at Oakland
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 10 at 10:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Todd Gurley
Gurley did not play during the entire preseason, but he should be a huge factor during Monday night's game against the Raiders. Last season, Gurley was the AP Offensive Player of the Year as he rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns on 279 attempts. He added another 788 yards and six scores on 64 receptions, averaging 12.3 yards per catch.
Gurley's versatility will obviously be key, but especially how effective he his against an Oakland defense that fared well against the run last year. The Raiders were 12th in rushing defense in 2017, giving up 108.9 rushing yards per game. Some of that was due to the unit's struggles against the pass (241.1 ypg, 26th) but don't forget that Mack is gone now too.
2. Derek Carr
Just two years ago, Carr was an NFL MVP candidate as he led the Raiders to a wild-card berth in 2016. Then tragedy struck as Carr broke his fibula in Week 16 and the Raiders went on lose to Houston in the AFC Wild Card Game.
Last year, Carr struggled as he finished with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, after tossing just six the season prior. What's more, his record as the starter went from 12-3 to 6-9 as head coach Jack Del Rio was fired and Jon Gruden was coaxed out of the broadcast booth to return to the Raiders (although a 10-year, $100 million contract certainly had something to do with this decision). Now not only will Carr have a chance to learn under Gruden, he'll also have a new offensive coordinator in Greg Olson. One thing's for sure, Carr will need to be at his best against a Rams defense that is loaded up front and in the secondary.
3. Aaron Donald
The Rams moved Donald to the team's active roster on Saturday, which ensures he will play against the Raiders on Monday night after missing all of the preseason due to his contract holdout. That was resolved last week when he signed a six-year extension worth $135 million, including $87 million guaranteed. At the time, it was the richest ever signed by a defensive player, but Mack broke that when he signed a new deal after getting traded to Chicago.
Numbers aside, the important thing is that the Rams will have Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, for Week 1 and even though he missed all of training camp and the preseason, it shouldn't take him long to get up to speed. Head coach Sean McVay has already said that Donald will not have a snap limitation on Monday night. Remember, Donald missed last season's opener and still ended up with 11 sacks, and the hardware.
With no Khalil Mack on the Raiders' defense, it is going to be difficult to get pressure on Jared Goff and slow down Todd Gurley. The Rams were a playoff team a year ago while Oakland finished in third place in the AFC West. The Black Hole will be at full throat and fans are excited to welcome Jon Gruden back, but Los Angeles has too many weapons on offense and is just as loaded on defense and should be able to take care of business against a team that is undergoing a lot of changes.
Prediction: Rams 27, Raiders 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo by Tony Gonzales/Oakland Raiders, courtesy of www.raiders.com)