The Las Vegas Raiders head to Western New York this weekend to take on the Buffalo Bills in the first game at Highmark Stadium this season. The home opener should be an electric atmosphere, as Bills Mafia won’t let their spirits be dampened by an opening-week loss to the New York Jets. The Raiders, on the other hand, are looking to keep the good times rolling after they escaped their opener with a 17-16 win over the Denver Broncos.
The Bills are heavily favored in this one, and should they play to their capability, this is a game that, on paper, they have a great shot at winning. The reason they play the games, though, is that all that “paper” stuff can go right in the recycling bin once the action begins. If Buffalo wants to right the ship this week, they’ll need to neutralize the Raiders’ top players.
Here are the five Vegas players we’re watching this week.
RB Josh Jacobs
After a week where the Bills allowed Breece Hall to break off three plays of at least 20 yards and go for over 100 yards rushing overall, the Raiders must like what they see in terms of jump-starting their rushing attack. Last week, Jacobs managed just 48 yards on 19 carries, adding two catches for 23 yards in the passing game. Vegas struggled to clear space for Jacobs on the ground against Denver’s defensive line, so Buffalo’s line will have to win the battle in the trenches in a similar fashion to prevent Jacobs from taking over the game. If they can do that, more of the contest is on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s arm, and when the game is on him to win that way, that’s a matchup that favors the Bills.
WR Davante Adams
Well, that Garoppolo matchup is a win for the Bills except for when he’s throwing to Adams, an elite pass-catcher who has the kind of skill set that gives Buffalo fits. He’s big, fast, and physical, and neither Tre’Davious White nor Christian Benford excel in man coverage or in handling jump-ball duties. One of those two will likely be on Adams at all times, though, and while I’m not as down on White as some have been since he’s returned from his ACL tear he suffered in 2021, he definitely hasn’t been the Tre White of before the injury yet, either. If the Bills can harass Adams enough to limit his effectiveness, it will go a long way towards neutralizing any shot the Raiders have at chunk plays. Making them matriculate down the field is what the Bills want to do, because eventually, they can force a mistake.
RT Thayer Munford Jr. and RT Jermaine Eluemunor
Yes, we have to highlight both because the Raiders split snaps between them both last week. Munford Jr. started the game, but Eluemunor played more snaps — and had a much lower Pro Football Focus grade (60.9, worst among the Raiders’ linemen) than Munford Jr. did (78.7, best among the Raiders’ offensive linemen). It’s odd to rotate offensive linemen in this way, as it doesn’t quite allow for comfort in the sense that the group doesn’t play with the same people consistently. However, regardless of the tackle who’s out there, Buffalo has to take advantage of them. The whole Raider line was weak in run blocking last week, but they were stout in pass protection. Between Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd, Buffalo has two legitimate threats along the edge, and I imagine that the Bills will flip-flop who’s at left end and right end to move Groot around a bit. Buffalo’s pass rush is going to test these guys, and if it can cause them to fail that exam, it’s a big win for the Bills.
DE Maxx Crosby
Speaking of edge rushers who are going to be a big test for their opponent, Crosby against Spencer Brown is not a matchup we’re going to want to see often on Sunday, but I bet it’s one that happens frequently. Spoiler alert: it’s not a good matchup for Buffalo, as Brown has struggled mightily and Crosby is an outstanding pass rusher. He had one sack and two additional quarterback hits against Russell Wilson last weekend. Brown was used, abused, stood up, shoved back, and left in the dust early and often on Monday night. The Bills may want to consider giving Brown some help if Crosby is the one lined up across from him.
CB Marcus Peters
The veteran is a solid cover guy, but he’s been known to bite on some double-moves in his time in the league. When Peters was with the Baltimore Ravens, the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen were able to exploit that tendency some, as Buffalo beat the Ravens in the playoffs in 2020 and in the regular season in 2022. Allen was just 4-of-9 for 39 yards when targeting Peters in that playoff victory, but he was 4-of-6 for 58 yards and a touchdown when throwing his way in the regular season in 2022. Peters missed the entire 2021 season due to an ACL tear, and he wasn’t the same last year, allowing 711 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 113.7 on passes targeting him. If they can catch him looking into the backfield, they may be able to double-move him and hit on some chunk plays.