NFL 2019 (Week 1): Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
By Jesse Pierson
Special to Pro Football Guru
In the year long grind of running a NFL franchise, a quiet offseason is the best a team can hope for. Denver’s was fairly noisy, bringing aboard Vic Fangio and Joe Flacco to replace Vance Joseph and Case Keenum as head coach and starting quarterback, respectively. Not to be outdone, Oakland hired TV personality/draft analyst Mike Mayock as their new general manager, traded for disgruntled Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, appeared on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and subsequently released the even-more-disgruntled Brown after he and Mayock clashed repeatedly in the run-up to the regular season.
Broncos: Hope springs eternal for teams with new coaches and quarterbacks. 2019 is a blank slate for Flacco, whose stellar postseason play in 2012 was not enough to endear him to the Ravens any longer. Despite winning a Super Bowl (and being named MVP of that game), Baltimore wanted some new blood under center, and the writing was on the wall after Lamar Jackson led the team to a playoff berth in relief of Flacco. Denver traded a fourth-round pick for their new leader, quickly dispatching 2018 starter Case Keenum to Washington as a result. Fangio and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello aim to channel Flacco’s postseason prowess into a 16-game regular season. Running back Phillip Lindsay joins Flacco in the backfield, fresh off of his pleasantly surprising 1,000-yard rookie campaign. Fellow second-year player Bradley Chubb will almost certainly benefit from Fangio’s defensive scheme, as will All-World outside linebacker Von Miller (also a former Super Bowl MVP).
Raiders: To paraphrase Rick Pitino: “Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Antonio Brown are not walking through that door.” Head coach Jon Gruden came out of the Monday Night Football broadcast booth to coach this team in 2018, and his working relationship with Mayock will determine how long the two of them can stay in the game. Trading Mack and Cooper last year yielded extra first-round picks, and a 4-12 record secured the fourth-overall pick. Those three “firsts” turned into Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram. Gruden wants to use Jacobs and a powerful rushing attack to ease the pressure on quarterback Derek Carr, who is now in his sixth season but has yet to truly assert himself as a franchise building block. Neither Gruden nor Mayock were around when Carr was drafted, and a poor showing this year could leave him out of a job.
Prediction: Literally and figuratively, the Oakland Raiders are battered and bruised; they have placed eight players on injured reserve, starting guard Gabe Jackson has been ruled out of this game, and three other key contributors (receiver J.J. Nelson, defensive tackle Corey Liuget, and linebacker Nicholas Morrow) are listed as questionable. The Antonio Brown saga – while great for TV ratings – left egg on their faces as well. A home win would go a long way toward soothing those maladies. Denver, however, is a more talented team on both sides of the ball. If Flacco can avoid turning the ball over, they should win by double digits.
Denver Broncos 27, Oakland Raiders 17
Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.