Saints vs. Raiders: Oakland Trip the Epitome of a Trap Game for New Orleans

Will OsgoodAnalyst INovember 15, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 11: The Oakland Raiders offense gathers in the huddle during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Football Outsiders define a trap game as "any game against a sub- .500 opponent slotted between two opponents who, on the season, posted records above .500." 

For the New Orleans Saints, this weekend's game at Oakland fulfills all the requirements laid out by Football Outsiders. 

The New Orleans Saints are coming off a victory against the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Their next two opponents after the Raiders are the San Francisco 49ers, who hold an ominous 6-2-1 record; and the Atlanta Falcons, who are now 8-1. 

And the Oakland Raiders are currently 3-6 and reside in third place in the AFC West. 

There you have it, this week's matchup meets all the requirements of a trap game laid out by Football Outsiders. 

Even more, the Saints must be on alert as a few other developments favor Oakland this week. 

Of greatest importance, one of the Raiders' two home wins came against one of the NFL's best, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders always seem to win one or two home games each season against really good teams. 

Perhaps it's due to traveling to the West Coast. Perhaps it's the unruly fans or the "Raider mystique." 

Maybe it's the ghost of Al Davis hanging over Coliseum, and the thousands of other sponsorship names it's been given in the past 10 years. 

Whatever it is, the Raiders and their silver and black seem to intimidate opponents in Oakland just enough to win a few big games. 

Another disturbing trend staring the Saints in the face is actually the result of Oakland's game a week ago at Baltimore. Oakland lost to the Ravens 55-20. That's a blowout no matter how you spin it. 

To a casual fan, or even some college football fans, that may seem like an encouraging fact. 

But remember last season when the Saints scored 60-plus points on the Indianapolis Colts on a Sunday night, only to come out and stink up the joint in St. Louis the following week. The reverse often comes true in the NFL. 

I call it the regression to the mean theory. Statistically speaking, if you were to toss a coin in the air 10 times and got it to hit heads seven times that would be highly improbable. 

The next 10 tosses you'd expect to result in just three heads, because the probability is 50-50 that a coin lands heads or tails. The results will eventually net 50-50 probability over the course of time. That is essentially regression to the mean. 

The same is often true in football. No NFL team is as bad as giving up 55 points in a game. It is an outlier when it happens. On the season, the Oakland Raiders are giving up a staggering 31.6 points per game. But given the small sample size, we can reasonably assert that average is highly influenced by the Ravens from last week. 

We want to avoid that game since it is an outlier. We'll take the eight previous games to get a more accurate points per game measure. In eight games the team gave up 229 points prior to the Baltimore game. That is good for 28.63 points per game. 

In other words, we'd expect the Raiders to give up something closer to that mark this week against the Saints. And we already know the Saints' defense is capable of giving up more points than that. 

We also know the regression to the mean means the Raiders are actually more likely to give up fewer than 28 points in this contest. 

That's a lot of statistical talk. The third disturbing trend for New Orleans is the likely weather on Sunday in Oakland. 

The weather report is calling for temperatures in the 50s with at least a 50 percent chance of rain. That likely means a slippery ball, wet and soggy field and uncomfortable playing conditions for both teams. 

If ever there were a great equalizer in football, it tends to be conditions. 

Finally, first-year Raiders head coach Dennis Allen spent time in New Orleans as the defensive backs coach under Gregg Williams. He knows this Saints team as well as any opposing head coach possibly could. 

That is just one more possible advantage for the Raiders on Sunday. 

Joe Vitt said all the right things this week about the Raiders in general, about teams who struggle the week prior coming back to the mean and about this trap game, even adamantly denying it is a trap game. "I never said trap game, did I? You guys said that," Vitt said.  

Yet we all know that's coach speak. Everyone has heard coaches talk that week before this sort of game before, and still seen their team come out flat and not ready to play. 

It happens all the time in sports. 

The Saints must avoid that this week. According to the standings, this is one of the easiest remaining games on their schedule. A win against a bad Oakland team is necessary to keep momentum and make a legitimate push to the playoffs. 

For a team that found itself in a 0-4 hole just six weeks ago, it might be wise to channel that same kind of psychological "us against the world, we have a mountain to climb" sort of attitude. 

It cannot take this team and this game lightly. Or else the season could be over Sunday evening. No one wants that. 

That's what trap games ultimately do. They end your season.