The Oakland Raiders are underdogs on Saturday, but a win in Houston is far from unattainable. In fact, if you ask the professional betters in Vegas, this is almost a toss up. The current line has the Texans favored by 3.5 points. As I’m sure we all know, the home team is automatically given three points. That means on a neutral field, the Texans would be favored by half of a point. A Raiders win would technically be an upset, but not a very big one.
So let’s take a look at three keys to getting the job done tomorrow:
1 - Establish an early lead
Without leader Derek Carr there to save them in the fourth, the Raiders will need to win this game in a manner much different than the way they won a number of their games this season. Remember how most of the year we asked when the Raiders would come out and dominate a game? They don’t need to dominate, but they sure do need to play well from start to finish. Without Carr, this isn’t a team that’s built to come from behind.
If the Raiders fall behind by any meaningful amount early in the game, it’s going to be very, very difficult to mount a comeback. Getting an early lead, on the other hand, will play perfectly into the Raiders’ game plan. It will take pressure off of Connor Cook and allow Oakland to lean heavily on the run game to milk the clock.
2 - Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
After a year of struggling on defense capped off by making Trevor Siemien and the Broncos look like a good offense, you can’t reasonably expect too much from the Raiders defense on Saturday. But what you can reasonably expect is turnovers. and with the return of Karl Joseph, you can have an even higher expectation of turnovers.
The Raiders are second in the NFL in forcing turnovers with 30, just behind the Chiefs with 33. No matter what you think about Ken Norton, Jr. as a defensive coordinator, you have to give him credit for emphasizing turnovers this much. It’s played a huge role in the Raiders getting 12 wins and could play a huge role in the Raiders getting a playoff win.
3 - Strong playcalling from Bill Musgrave
After a rather impressive season as the offensive playcaller, Bill Musgrave really struggled last weekend against the Denver Broncos. He started off the game with four run plays, making it abundantly clear that the Raiders did not trust their backup signal caller. The result was disastrous for Oakland who faced an eight or even nine man box for most of the game and were never able to get a rhythm on offense.
If the Raiders want to pull out a win on Saturday, Musgrave has to be a lot better. He needs to find a way to get Connor Cook going early in the game without putting him at much risk of turning the ball over. It’s a tight rope to walk but it’s what needs to happen. This win will have to be a group effort from all aspects from the sideline to the field and Musgrave is a huge key on the sideline.