Week 6: Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders

Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders (London, +2.5, 48)

Line: The line might be a bit too high from a power rating perspective and an overreaction to the Seahawks playing a close game against the mighty Rams whereas the Raiders got pummeled by the Chargers. The lookahead line last week was a pick’em, my power numbers make it a pick’em without adjusting for the banged-up offensive line for Oakland and their awkward travel schedule.
Situation: the travel factor is going to be crucial here as you need time to adjust to the new time zone (8 hours from Pacific time). I’ve spent two weeks in Florida during July this year. After flying back to Germany, I needed more than four days to get back to my sleep routing – I couldn’t sleep until late in the night and wasn’t myself during the day. Most people deal with jet lags when traveling west. Our bodies and brains usually don’t perform at the highest level when we mess up our sleep rhythm. There is a reason why teams from the west coast perform worse in early east coast games than the average road team. Teams who travel earlier to London and focus on sleep rhythms have had significant advantages in the past. The Seahawks traveled on Wednesday and Pete Carroll explained in detail how they chose the time to give their players the best possible sleep adjustments:

“There is some science to it. We’ll try to sleep on the way over and then keeping them up the day that we get there so that they can get a regular night’s sleep, a real healthy night’s sleep without going to sleep during the day—that’s one of the big issues. Then we have days to turn it around. There’s a lot of different ways people have done it whether they go over in the first of the week, where they wait as long as they can. We have chosen our options after a long study and we feel really good about what we’re doing. We should be OK, we’ll be fine.”

The Raiders travel on late Thursday to arrive Friday in London, basically “just in time” and Jon Gruden couldn’t even explain why. He just said that he “talked to guys who have been there”. And there is something else:

“I hope I can make it, honestly. I’m not great (traveling),” Gruden said. “I get claustrophobic. My son was a weightlifter and he won a powerlifting competition in Belarus. I had to fly 14 hours. I had to fly home 14 hours. I had vertigo for a month. I couldn’t even lay down, the house was spinning. I am hoping I don’t get vertigo. I’m not a great traveler. 
“I’ll be honest with you, I hate it. I’m not good. I’m concerned. I’m more worried about that than our goal-line offense right now.”

When the Jets traveled to London in 2015, they started their research during the spring by consulting sleep specialists. The Dolphins arrived on Friday that year and the Jets dominated them from the get-go. The Jaguars arrived early in London last year – they blew out the Ravens 44-7. The Rams played at Jacksonville before playing the Cards at London. They stayed on the east coast and traveled earlier – they beat Arizona (with Carson Palmer) 33-0. The Saints faced the Dolphins in Wembley: the team of Sean Payton traveled immediately after their Sunday game and arrived in London on Monday morning. They won 20-0. This is a significant advantage for the Seahawks!
Analysis: This game pretty much comes down to a better rested and sleep-adjusted Seahawks defense against Derek Carr without All-Pro LG Kelechi Osemele, RT Donald Penn (IR) and three other banged up offensive linemen in Kolton Miller, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson. Rookies Miller (sprained MCL) and Brandon Parker are going to protect the edges. Against the Chargers, Parker and Miller gave up a combined 12 pressures, according to PFF. Especially Kolton Miller has struggled mightily against quality edge rushers the past two games. This week he is going to face Frank Clark who created 20 pressures year to date with only two coming against Andrew Whitworth last week.
Derek Carr, one of two qualifying quarterbacks who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (Case Keenum is the other), can’t deal with pressure. As soon as he recognizes the slightest push of pressure, he gets happy feet and gets rid of the ball. This has been the case throughout his career and this season he has a bottom-five passer rating under pressure. This doesn’t bode well, not even against a Seahawks-defense that could have conceded 44 points to the Rams last week. I expect the Hawks to attack those edges consistently and make Derek Carr uncomfortable in the pocket. DC Ken Norton Jr has been the Raiders DC last season and while I don’t think he is any good, he might know a bit about Derek Carr’s tendencies. Based on efficiency numbers, the Raiders underperform in terms of scoring, but I doubt they will be able to score a lot with Derek Carr behind a super banged up offensive line. Their ceiling is probably around 17-20 points.
While every analytics guy hates the Seahawks offensive philosophy – which I agree with, I like that the Seahawks have recognized their highly efficient play-action offense. Russell Wilson ranks first in play-action passer rating and second in play-action yards per play. Brian Schottenheimer has increased the play-action percentage, last week he called play-action on more than 50% of the dropbacks. The Seahawks offense has a great matchup this week because the Raiders defense ranks 30th in pass efficiency (while playing a tough schedule), they rank 32nd in pressure rate and 23rd in play-action yards per play while facing the 2nd-highest PA rate in the league. This is a superb matchup for the Seahawks offense as I don’t know how the Raiders are going to defend those play-action passes.
The Seahawks have the much better traveling schedule while the Raiders travel late to London, have significant offensive line problems and a bad matchup. Seahawks should take this one home at Wembley!
Pick: Seattle Seahawks -3 -101 (Bookmaker, 10/11 07.45 AM EST)

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