Monday Night Preview: What to Watch for in Tonight's Doubleheader
Week 1's edition of Monday Night Football features a doubleheader with the New York Jets traveling to play the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams squaring off against the Raiders in Oakland in the nightcap.
Both the Jets and Lions missed the playoffs last season. The Jets finished below .500 with a 5-11 record while the Lions narrowly missed an NFC wild card appearance after a 9-7 campaign.
The only team of the four to make last year's playoffs, the Rams finished 11-5 before losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card Round. The Raiders will look to rebound from their 6-10 record under new (and once-before) coach Jon Gruden.
With each of these teams looking to make a splash in their opener, here are a few matchups likely to influence the outcome of tonight's games.
The night's first matchup features Sam Darnold, the youngest starting quarterback in NFL history, at just over 21 years old. The young rookie dazzled in two seasons as the signal-caller at USC. He recorded 4,143 passing yards in his junior season on his way to becoming the third-overall pick in the NFL draft. This preseason, Darnold showed enough promise for the Jets to not only hand him the keys but to also trade fellow signal caller Teddy Bridgewater, who had a nice preseason himself. With Jermaine Kearse nursing an abdominal injury, Darnold will likely lean on Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson as his main targets.
On the other side, nine-year veteran Matt Stafford will look to start the season on the right foot against the rebuilding Jets. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Stafford finished as a top-10 quarterback in 2017. Among 20 quarterbacks to record at least 500 drop backs, his 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back ranked ninth. Also, Stafford's 45.75% Passing Success Rate (percentage of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP) ranked 10th among the same group. Passing for over 4,200 yards each of the last seven seasons, Stafford will look to Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and second-year breakout candidate Kenny Golladay.
The night's second matchup begins with Derek Carr taking the reins of Jon Gruden's system. Carr disappointed in 2017, according to numberFire's NEP metric. His 0.08 Passing NEP per drop back ranked 12th among 20 qualified passers. Carr's 45.23% Passing Success Rate proved to be much the same, ranking 13th in that group. With Michael Crabtree now in Baltimore, Carr will rely on Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson, with Jared Cook likely to serve as his safety blanket over the middle and near the line of scrimmage.
On the other side, Jared Goff will look to build on a breakout 2017 under second-year coach Sean McVay. Goff recorded the fifth-best Passing NEP per drop back in the league in his first year under McVay, posting a 0.23 mark. The Rams return receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks has joined the fold to help Goff improve on his 2017 numbers.
Running Back Breakdown
In the backfield, the Jets will rely on a one-two punch of Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Last season, Powell performed slightly better, according to our metrics. Powell recorded a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.04, which fell right on the league average. Conversely, Crowell finished with a -0.08 Rushing NEP per attempt.
On the other side, the Lions will use three-way committee between Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, and Theo Riddick. The Lions spent a second-round pick on Johnson, but he will likely share the load in his first NFL game.
In the nightcap, the Rams will look to stud back Todd Gurley. Among 18 running backs to record at least 200 rushing attempts last year, Gurley's 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry ranked second. Going against a Khalil Mack-less Raiders defense, our projections have Gurley eclipsing 100 total yards with a score.
Finally, the Raiders will enter tonight will Marshawn Lynch as the favorite to lead their backfield in carries. Lynch performed surprisingly well in 2017 as his 0.01 Rushing NEP per rush ranked sixth among the aforementioned group.
Per our projections, the Lions have the NFL's 22nd-best defense, while the Jets come in 26th.
The Jets look more lopsided, with the 5th-best ranked rush defense, compared to a 20th-ranked pass defense. The Lions have the 16th-ranked pass defense and the 18th-ranked run defense.
Monday night's second game features the Rams' 10th-ranked defense against the Raiders 30th-ranked defense.
The Rams 30th-ranked rush defense will surely improve with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. They also add Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to the NFL's seventh-best pass defense. The Raiders have the 19th-best run defense and the 31st-ranked pass defense, with Mack leaving via trade.
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