Both the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams enter their "Thursday Night Football" matchup as two of the NFL’s big disappointments of 2022. But these struggling franchises, both of whom have spent most of the year under .500, are also heading in wildly different directions.
Related: NFL Power Rankings Entering Week 14
Things have gotten so bad for the Rams that they were willing to claim quarterback Baker Mayfield off waivers this week. Mayfield, 1-5 this year as a starter for the Carolina Panthers, was released after posting a passer rating of 74.4, ranked 33rd in the NFL among qualifying players (only the Jets’ Zach Wilson is worse). He was benched for good as a starter after the Carolina offense produced an average of 16.7 points, bottoming out in a 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last month.
That still might be good enough for Mayfield to be the Rams’ starter in just a few days’ time. With Matthew Stafford on injured reserve, backup John Wolford is nursing a neck injury which leaves Bryce Perkins as the only other healthy option on the roster. It’s the latest blow to a team that has also lost All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp, resulting in an NFL-low 16.8 points per game on offense.
Whether Perkins or Mayfield take the helm, they’ll man a sinking 3-9 Rams ship producing one of the worst seasons by a defending Super Bowl champion in recent memory. At 5-7, the Raiders haven’t been much better but enter the final five weeks with momentum after a three-game win streak. In just that stretch alone, Raiders starter Derek Carr has more touchdown passes (seven) than Mayfield (six) produced over the entire 2022 season to date.
Need I say more? This mismatch on paper has resulted in a six-point spread the Raiders’ way, fairly high for a team who started the year losing seven of their first nine games. Can Las Vegas live up to those lofty expectations and lift itself back into the playoff race? Or can the Rams conjure some magic from someone to turn the tide of an otherwise catastrophic year?
Thursday Night Football: Las Vegas (5-7) at Los Angeles (3-9)
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 8 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Broadcast Outlet: Prime Video
Live Stream: fuboTV (only available in Los Angeles and Las Vegas
Spread: Raiders -6
Tickets: As low as $146 on SITickets.com*
Three Things to Watch
1. Davante Adams as Batman, Josh Jacobs as Robin
After a sluggish start with his new Raiders team, Adams has turned around and put the entire offense into overdrive, pairing with Jacobs to produce one of the most potent 1-2 punches in football.
Over the last five games alone, Adams has totaled four 100-yard receiving games, seven touchdowns and 41 catches. His 1,176 total yards now rank fourth in the NFL behind Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs.
“The stats mean a lot to me in the sense that I’m holding up my end of the bargain,” Adams said after a win against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13. “I’m doing what I’ve got to do… ultimately, I wanted to get the ball so I can put the team in position to win games.”
The passing game has gotten a major assist from Jacobs, who leads the NFL with 482 rushing yards during this three-game stretch. Just that total alone would be good enough for 16th in the AFC over the entire season. His 1,303 rushing yards overall lead the league while his 10 rushing touchdowns are tied for third, behind only the Lions’ Jamaal Williams and the Browns’ Nick Chubb.
It’s runs like this dramatic 86-yarder to beat the Seahawks two weeks ago in overtime that showcase how difficult Jacobs is to stop. And as this duo peaks, they’re running into a Rams defense that will likely be without top playmaker Aaron Donald (ankle) for the second straight game. It’s a unit that’s given up 26 points or more in four straight games, all losses, while allowing some of their opponents’ main offensive stars to put up the following numbers…
Seattle WR Tyler Lockett: 9 rec, 128 yards, TD
Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes: 27/42, 320 yards, TD, INT
New Orleans WR Chris Olave: 5 rec, 102 yards, TD
Arizona WR DeAndre Hopkins: 10 rec, 98 yards
Considering that pattern, it’s hard to believe L.A. is primed to stop either one of the Adams/Jacobs combination.
2. Can the Rams find a playmaker on offense?
Long before their quarterback drama, the Rams were having a problem finding anyone to complement the Matthew Stafford-Cooper Kupp connection on offense. Free-agent pickup Allen Robinson II never had more than 63 yards in any game and is now out for the year with a foot injury. Ben Skowronek started out promising but has just seven catches for 53 yards in his last five games.
The focus then turned to running back Cam Akers, who was benched earlier this season after a falling out with head coach Sean McVay. He led the scoring for this team in last week’s game against the Seahawks, rushing for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
The problem is, Akers isn’t really lighting the world on fire. His 3.3 yards per carry don’t rank inside the top 50 of NFL running backs this season. He hasn’t rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since December 2020 and now has defenses making him their primary focus.
That leaves Bryce Perkins or Baker Mayfield with limited options when they’re already handicapped under center. How is either one going to spark the offense?
3. Can the Rams make something happen on special teams?
There’s one hope for the Rams: they can turn the game into a defensive battle. Both punter Riley Dixon and kicker Matt Gay have been bright spots within a tough year. Dixon ranks inside the top 10 in both punting yards (49.4) and net average (43.6). His performance two weeks ago against the Chiefs included a muffed punt that was perhaps the lone highlight of a 26-10 disaster on the road.
Gay, meanwhile, has built upon his first-ever Pro Bowl selection last year. He has hit all but one of his field goals this season (18/19) along with all 21 of his extra points. Of course, for Gay to score… the Rams' offense has to actually march down the field into field goal range.
It’s been a couple of weeks since an emotional speech from the Raiders’ Derek Carr that ended in tears, accusing some of his Raiders teammates of not being “all in” on the new regime led by head coach Josh McDaniels. Since then, they’re 3-0 and rolling with the type of rhythm people expected from this organization to start the year.
The Rams are like putting a little Micro Machines car in front of that bulldozer. It’s hard to see anything other than their team getting run right over.
Prediction: Raiders 34, Rams 10
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
*Price as of publication.