The term “must win” is one of the more overused phrases in the sports world. It’s hard to wrap your mind around a game in Week 2 of the NFL season being categorized as such, but with that said, the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders, who meet Sunday in Sin City, find themselves in a difficult situation this week. An 0-2 start for either team in their respective divisions could signal hard times on the horizon. And it’ll be on the horizon for one of them — unless we have a tie.
We’ve all heard the stat about teams starting 0-2 rarely making the playoffs. Less than 13 percent of those teams have qualified for the postseason since 1990. While that may be more skewed toward the old playoff format (12 teams as opposed to 14), it could be relevant in the case of the Raiders and Cardinals.
Even with a 17-game schedule, falling to 0-2 in arguably the two toughest divisions in the league would be devastating. Las Vegas can ill afford to drop another game to keep pace in a loaded AFC West with Kansas City and Los Angeles, who handed the Raiders a 24-19 loss last week, already at 1-0, and Denver — despite a puzzling loss to Seattle — expected to right the ship and be in the thick of the playoff hunt this season. KC and the Chargers will go head-to-head this week, giving Las Vegas a chance to gain ground with a victory.
Only one NFC West team was victorious last week, and it wasn’t the Cardinals, who got drubbed by the aforementioned Chiefs. If all goes according to plan, the Rams and 49ers should be able to climb to 1-1. Although, as we saw in Week 1, plans are subject to change.
Arizona is at an extreme disadvantage in the quarterback matchup of Kyler Murray against Derek Carr. That’s not a knock on Murray’s ability, but Kyler is missing his best-receiving option, DeAndre Hopkins. This will be game two of Hopkins’ six-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs. Murray passed for two TDs against the Chiefs in Week 1 — albeit not until the fourth quarter — but failed to reach 200 yards through the air.
Hopkins opens the field up for Arizona’s offense, and without him, it could be pulling up the rear in their division until he returns. The newly-acquired Marquise “Hollywood” Brown wasn’t spectacular, although he did have a TD reception. But four catches for 43 yards is barely worthy of No. 2 receiver status. He’ll need to pick up the production while Hopkins is out.
Carr had his new favorite Raider target — and former Fresno State teammate — Davante Adams and looked to him early and often. Adams was targeted 17 times by Carr, catching 10 balls for 141 yards and a score. That was one hell of a debut in silver and black for Adams but just a tad bit aggressive on Carr’s part. Carr pointed out his and the team’s aggressiveness following the game.
“We did too many good things, and I was way too aggressive,” Carr said postgame. “We came in with an aggressive mindset, especially with all the weapons that we have. That’s on me, the decisions to be too aggressive in certain moments.”
It’s one thing to be aggressive or come into a game with that mentality. That can be great and usually what coaches ask of their players. But being that aggressive to one area of the field can be too much and becomes predictable. Carr threw the ball Darren Waller’s way just six times, and he was the team’s second-leading receiver against the Chargers in Week 1. Waller — who recently agreed to a three-year, $51 million extension — has been a star in Las Vegas the past couple of years, so you can’t forget about him now that Carr’s college buddy, Adams, is in town.
Against the Cardinals this week, the Raiders should get back on track with Carr spreading the ball around a little more. Adams doesn’t need nearly 20 targets for this team to be successful. They’ve got other options in Las Vegas. Hunter Renfrow had six targets and only three catches for 21 yards. Josh Jacobs ran the ball well, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, but he only got 10 rush attempts.
Once the Raiders figure out how to balance their offensive attack, they’ll be alright. (Or everything could go to shit, ‘cuz, Josh McDaniels). But it needs to start this week against Arizona to avoid falling back two games of first place in the AFC West. Arizona, on the other hand, is nearly doomed. It feels like they are on the path to becoming one of last year’s playoff teams that miss out in 2022. Their defense was shredded by Patrick Mahomes, and the offense did very little to help them out.
Raider Nation should be hyped for this matchup at home, helping their team avoid an 0-2 hole and take this game against the Cardinals.