NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Breakthrough to Bust
by Dennis Ranahan

The National Football League will complete their first week of regular season play tonight with a pair of Monday contests. The action will begin with the Detroit Lions hosting the New York Jets in a game scheduled to kickoff at 4:10 p.m. Pacific Time, and followed a little more than three hours later when the Oakland Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams.

In Detroit, the New York Jets will be introducing their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, to professional football. The Jets first round draft pick, third player selected overall, will do battle against Detroit veteran Matthew Stafford. Last year, for a few months, Stafford had elevated himself to the highest paid player in the league. If things go well for the Darnold, he might be the highest paid player in football after he completes his rookie contract.

The fact that Stafford got big money is a clear example of how starved for quarterback play many teams are. The success of the Lions over the past 50 years can be chronicled on a postage stamp, and yet Stafford was paid his record salary having never won a postseason game and a record against winning teams on the road that included 18 consecutive losses before his first win.

Nevertheless, Stafford seems to have all the skills that would justify him as a franchise quarterback, albeit the money came in front of his talent translating to team success.

In the NFL nightcap, the Rams look to build on their breakthrough season of a year ago that earned them the second seed and first round bye in the National Football Conference playoffs. Their success was gained under first year head coach Sean McVay and second-year quarterback Jared Goff.

Before McVay arrived in Los Angeles, and based on his rookie season, the Rams were confronting the prospect that they spent a first pick in the draft on a bust. His rookie season resulted in a 4-12 record and whispers that the Rams had made a mistake and that the second pick in the 2016 draft, Carson Wentz, was clearly the better quarterback. While Wentz did nothing to reduce his status while being the quarterback most responsible for earning the Philadelphia Eagles the top seed in the NFC playoffs last year, it was Goff’s play that seemed to justify him being the first player taken in the draft.

The Rams are the complete package. They have an offense that can strike on the ground with Todd Gurley leading the way and the passing skills of Goff. On defense, they have one of the best defenders in the game with Aaron Donald on the front line who this year is joined by highly regarded Ndamukong Suh.

The Rams visit Oakland just a little more than a week after the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. The transaction subtracts from Oakland’s stop unit one of the most dominant players in the game. Last night, in his first game with the Bears, Mack showed his skills while becoming the first player in NFL history to register a sack, fumble recovery, interception and touchdown in one half of football. Unfortunately, for the Bears, the second half brought to life another superstar as Aaron Rodgers engineered a rally that overcame the largest fourth quarter deficit in Green Bay Packers history.

But, did you notice, even on the Packers winning 75-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, that the closest defender to him as he crossed the goal line was Mack? The man is so special, both on and off the field, and the only good news is that after leaving the Raiders he goes to a very good situation in Chicago. Mack can now join a rich tradition of Chicago linebackers that include the likes of Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher … all Hall of Fame members.

No doubt, the Raiders will miss Mack and his loss weakens the team. But, how does that relate to tonight when Oakland hosts the talented Rams in Jon Gruden’s first game back as head coach?

The Raiders had a breakthrough campaign two years ago, earning their first winning record in 14 seasons, and only had their Super Bowl aspirations derailed by the injury to quarterback Derek Carr. Last year, with hopes high after a successful 2016, the wheels fell off and Oakland suffered a 6-10 season with only four wins over the final 14 weeks of the campaign.

Breakthrough seasons, that is a playoff year after multiple losing campaigns, most often generates a down year the following season. Which points to the Rams, who snapped ten years of losing marks with last season’s success, and are now scheduled for a down year.

Take all the talent in the world and put it in a bad motivational spot and watch it fail. Tonight, the Rams are in a bad spot based both on a season-to-season basis and for this particular matchup that has seen the point spread soar to the home team getting a touchdown on the line.

Qoxhi Picks: Oakland Raiders (+6) over Los Angeles Rams