After a nail-biting victory over the New Orleans Saints, the Oakland Raiders get their home schedule underway this weekend when they host the Atlanta Falcons at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Raiders edged the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on a two-point conversion when quarterback Derek Carr found veteran Michael Crabtree on a fade pass and after Carr completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Seth Roberts with less than a minute in the game. The 35-34 win marked the first time the Raiders won a season opener since 2011.
There has been growing optimism in Oakland after many years of disappointment. There were plenty of signs of encouragement last season, and the Raiders look like legitimate threats to make the postseason.
But there are still worries about the Raiders' long history of costly penalties. Against the Saints, the Raiders had 14 penalties for 141 yards.
“I appreciate the difficult jobs the refs have with making so many judgment calls, but I can assure you that our team is highly discipline," head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters on Wednesday. "We are going to work hard and compete. I think as people get used to seeing our players compete like that, these penalties are going to disappear.”
Meanwhile, injuries are piling up to the offensive line. Backup right tackle Austin Howard returned to practice, and could see playing time with starter Menelik Watson suffering a groin injury and offensive lineman Matt McCants suffering a knee injury. Center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson are dealing with knee injuries. Meanwhile, running back Taiwan Jones suffered a concussion.
Oakland released linebacker Curtis Grant, and signed defensive end Jimmy Bean to the practice squad.
The Falcons are looking to bounce back after falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome, 31-24, and despite a solid performance from Matt Ryan. The veteran quarterback completed 27 of his 39 passes for 334 yards, while throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions.
It was the running game that struggled against the Bucs. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for just 42 yards on 19 carries.
Some key members of the offense are banged up. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are dealing with ankle injuries though head coach Dan Quinn expects them to participate in practice on Thursday. Freeman (quadricep) was also limited in practice.
Defensive end Brooks Reed (shoulder) and safety Keanu Neal (knee) are also dealing with injuries.
But the defense may have rookie safety Keanu Neal available in Oakland. Neal underwent surgery just over two weeks ago and his original timetable for recovery was three-to-four weeks. The Falcons' first-round pick was expected to be a key contributor to the secondary this season.
“We are close, but we are not there yet,” Quinn said of Neal. “He’s participating in the running portion of things. We’ll take it through Thursday and Friday to see how fast he can progress.”
Del Rio offered positive words about the Falcons, who are coming off an 8-8 season.
"I feel like we are dialing in the Falcons," said Del Rio. "We know that we have a good football team coming in and we are excited to get our second game going. We’re glad to be at home. We look forward to the challenge."
Point Spread: Raiders -5
Over/Under: 49.5 points
Prediction: Raiders over Falcons, 21-20