The Oakland Raiders host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, with the 49ers favored by anywhere from 8- to 9.5-points. Both teams are coming off ugly losses, but most people figure the 49ers will win this one. An upset is very much possible given the 49ers recent offensive performances, but from a pure win/loss perspective, I don't think many people are picking the Raiders.
That being said, we know the 49ers have struggled this season, and it is entirely possible this could be a very close game. Rather than focus on the regular "why each team will lose" question, I thought it made more sense to look at "why each team will cover the spread." The 49ers covering the spread does not mean this won't be a close game (with late scores putting it out of reach), but I think 49ers fans in general would probably breathe a little easier if the 49ers won by double digits.
Thanks again to Levi from Silver & Black Pride for contributing to this piece. In case you missed them earlier this week, on Wednesday we discussed under the radar players on each team. On Friday, we exchanged five questions (my questions, his questions).
Why the Raiders will cover
There are a few things working in the Raiders favor as far as covering the spread is concerned. First off is their record this season. The Raiders are 6-2 this season covering the spread in games where they are at least 6.5-point underdogs.
The second thing is the game is in Oakland. The Raiders have a rookie quarterback in Derek Carr who plays much better at home than he does on the road. His two best games this season were in Oakland where he threw four touchdowns against the Chargers and led the Raiders to a win over the Chiefs.
Third, Latavius Murray will be back in the lineup. The Raiders rode Murray to their first win of the season. The added run threat brought up the play of Derek Carr as well and it wore down the Chiefs defense to allow for the game-winning drive with some power running by Marcel Reece and good completions by Carr. The Chiefs were favored by 7 points in Oakland and lost 24-20.
I think the spread is also being affected somewhat by that implosion in St Louis last week. The 49ers know that is a good team even before they got Chris Long back. As bad as the Raiders are, that was just a perfect storm. Prior to that game, the Raiders had been playing some pretty good defense, believe it or not. I see them having a renewed focus after that embarrassment.
Why the 49ers will cover
The 49ers have struggled on offense this season, which makes it easy to pick against them covering the spread. The Raiders may be 1-11, but I would agree with Levi that prior to the implosion against the Rams, they were actually playing some fairly good football. As much as I would like to see the 49ers blow out Oakland, I would not be remotely shocked by a close game.
However, the 49ers are in a position to cover this spread, even if the Raiders hang close for much of the game. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are 18-10-1 ATS in 29 regular season road games. They are 11-3-2 ATS in their last 16 total road games. That does not mean this particular 49ers road team will cover, but at least some history is on their side.
A 49ers cover would likely happen more because of the defense than the offense. The Raiders will potentially see a boost with the return of Latavius Murray, and I have to imagine the Raiders will do whatever they can to establish the run. However, when the Raiders do have to pass, this game has the potential to turn into a significant sack and turnover opportunity for the 49ers. The 49ers pass rush is considerably improved with the return of Aldon Smith, as they are getting QB pressures 52.3 percent of QB dropbacks, compared to 32.5 percent of QB dropbacks during Smith's suspension. If the 49ers are going to cover, it will come because they have flipped the field position battle with turnovers, and punts deep in the Raiders own territory.
Of course, this also assumes the 49ers offense does enough to take advantage of opportunities presented by the defense. The Raiders run defense has generally been pretty decent, but their pass defense is bad. The 49ers have the weapons to take advantage of that, and I think we'll see the 49ers do just that. Colin Kaepernick had a miserable game against Seattle, but I think that is more of just his inconsistency against good defenses. I think we see improvement this week, which should allow the 49ers to pull away at some point for the cover.