Thursday Night Football Preview: Raiders visit Los Angeles for what will feel like a home game vs. Rams

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Rick Scuteri/AP/Shutterstock (13649086oq) Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game, in Las Vegas Chargers Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 04 Dec 2022

Thursday Night Football Preview: Raiders visit Los Angeles for what will feel like a home game vs. Rams

Las Vegas Raiders (5-7) at Los Angeles Rams (3-9)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/Prime Video

The Las Vegas Raiders were left for dead three weeks ago. At 2-7, it seemed as if the fortune that saw them win countless one-score games last season had faded, and they were doomed to irrelevance in short order. Now, three weeks later, Vegas has won three straight and are suddenly flirting with the outskirts of the AFC playoff hunt. The Raiders’ flair for the dramatic hasn’t gone anywhere – their last five games have all been one-score contests – but they’ve rediscovered the ability to win those games recently.

For the Los Angeles Rams, the 2022 campaign has completely fallen apart. The defending Super Bowl champions are now 3-9, losers of six straight. An avalanche of injuries can overwhelm even the deepest of rosters, but the Rams were never one of those rosters – trading away high draft picks left and right in pursuit of winning in the moment will do that. Fans in Los Angeles knew they’d have to pay the piper somewhere down the line, but few expected that moment would come so soon. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is most likely out for the season, the return of All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp is still weeks away, and L.A.’s offensive line has been a mess for weeks.

Preseason, Thursday night looked like a favorable spot for the defending champion Rams. Now, it’s becoming more difficult to imagine them winning another game – let alone against a surging team like Las Vegas. It doesn’t help that Raiders’ fans will undoubtedly pack SoFi Stadium Thursday night, nullifying – or even reversing – the Rams’ theoretical home-field advantage.

These are professional football players on both sides, at the end of the day, grown men with pride who hate losing. Anyone watching the Rams’ loss to Seattle last weekend could see how badly players like Bobby Wagner and Jalen Ramsey still want to win. If Las Vegas shows up asleep with its mind on next week’s matchup with New England, there’s no guarantee it can beat even the Rams.

The Raiders’ recent success has been the result of clutch late surges, overwhelming teams when it matters with game-breaking offensive playmakers. Running back Josh Jacobs and wide receiver Davante Adams combined for 321 yards of offense and three touchdowns against the Chargers last Sunday, one week after Jacobs’ 229-yard outburst against the Seahawks.

If Los Angeles is to have a chance, its defense will have to keep Adams and Jacobs in check. Offensively, L.A.’s loss to Seattle last Sunday was as competitive as it has looked in weeks. Cam Akers rose from the dead to score two rushing touchdowns, and John Wolford did enough to move the ball up and down the field from under center. But when it mattered, the lack of elite firepower was obvious. Wolford threw an interception near the end of each half, the latter of which sealed the loss with seconds to play.

Unlike many teams with terrible records heading into the home stretch of the season, the Rams don’t have a reason to tank. Their No. 1 draft pick next spring belongs to the Detroit Lions as the result of L.A.’s trade for Matthew Stafford. As a result, Los Angeles saw no reason not to claim Baker Mayfield off waivers from the Carolina Panthers this week, presumably as an experiment for the last few weeks of the season. He is unlikely to play Thursday against Las Vegas, but the decision to add Mayfield is evidence that the Rams are not going to give up down the stretch.

SoFi Stadium will look and sound a lot like Allegiant Stadium Thursday night, especially if Las Vegas plays as well as it’s capable. A win would move the Raiders to 6-7, just a game and a half behind the New York Jets, with a golden opportunity to pass the New England Patriots next week.

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