Tonight on Thursday Night Football we’ll see a game featuring teams with two combined wins on the season.
No, it’s not Week 2, or Week 3, or even Week 6.
The two Bay Area NFL teams are fighting to see which can notch their second win of the season first. Or maybe they’re actually fighting to see who can get the better draft positioning in 2019. Whoever wins tonight won’t gain much with both of these teams already out of the playoff picture, but the loser will have an early advantage when it comes to who picks first in the 2019 NFL Draft.
All of that aside, here are five things we’ll be watching for when these one-win teams meet on Thursday Night Football.
1. Derek Carr’s personal success
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr passed for 244 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions last week, and had his first-career rushing touchdown. Carr posted his third-highest career passer rating (136.6) in the game. He’ll be looking to continue that personal success against a 49ers defense that is allowing the 12th-most passing yards per game (262.5), but the fifth-most points per game. He’ll also have to figure out how to reallocate the passes he was throwing Amari Cooper’s way after the Raiders traded the receiver to the Cowboys. Though, Carr was hardly using the two-time Pro Bowler, as Cooper had just 22 catches on 31 targets for 280 yards and one touchdown this season.
2. Matt Breida’s emergence
If there’s been a bright spot for the 49ers offense since Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL, it’s running back Matt Breida who has 487 rushing yards and two touchdowns this season along with a 5.8 yard per carry average. He’s already exceeded his 2017 rushing yardage and is making a case for being a top 10 NFL running back. The 49ers will need to rely on Breida (who has been playing through numerous injuries) even more this week as quarterback C.J. Beathard will not start due to a right wrist injury. Instead, it’ll be third string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has never started an NFL game.
3. Jon Gruden quotes!
Since Gruden was named head coach of the Raiders in January, he’s blessed us with dozens of unforgettable quotes. Whether it’s talking about throwing the game back to 1998, comparing his salary to that of actor Tom Cruise, or saying Khalil Macks don’t grow on trees, the things that come out of Gruden’s mouth continue to entertain us. In a primetime appearance, there should be ample opportunities before, during, and after the game to hear from the charismatic coach.
4. Coaching connections aplenty
These teams have a lot of connections and many coaches fighting for pride against the team they used to coach for and coaches they used to work with.
- Raiders head coach Jon Gruden worked as an offensive assistant for the 49ers in 1990, helping the 49ers to a 14-2 record and NFC Championship appearance.
- 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was on Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s staff in Tampa Bay from 2004-05, serving as the offensive quality control coach.
- Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie played linebacker for the 49ers during the 1992 season.
- Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson entered the NFL coaching ranks as quarterbacks coach for the 49ers in 2001.
- Raiders senior defensive assistant Jim O’Neil served as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers in 2016.
- Raiders director of football research Dave Razzano served as a scouting assistant for the 49ers from 1988-92. He and Gruden served on the same 49ers staff in 1990. His father, Tony, was a long-time head scout for the 49ers.
- 49ers run game specialist/outside linebackers coach Johnny Holland served as the linebackers coach for the Raiders in 2012.
- 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello entered the NFL’s coaching ranks with the Raiders, serving as an offensive quality control/assistant quarterbacks coach under Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable (head coach) in 2009.
5. OK, but seriously, back to the draft positioning ...
SB Nation’s draft expert Dan Kadar is already onto draft season with his first in-season 2019 NFL mock draft. And both of these teams are pretty much in draft mode, too. The 49ers are currently in line for the No. 2 overall pick with the Raiders set up for pick No. 3. The winner of this game will see their draft position fall. Both teams will surely say they’re playing to win for the remainder of the season, but the difference between the No. 2 and No. 4 overall pick in the draft can be significant.