It's week 16, the Raiders sit at 2-12 on the season, coming off a route in Kansas City. They face the 8-6 Buffalo Bills, coming off a big win over the Green Bay Packers, and fighting for a trip to the playoffs. It's two teams headed in two different directions.
The game kicks off at 1:25pm (4:25 Eastern) from O.co Coliseum in Oakland, where the Raiders have actually won two-straight games. It's sold out so it will be televised locally on CBS. It's the Raiders final home game of the season and with the "sweeping changes" expected, this could be a very different looking staff the next time they take this field -- which they probably will take THIS field for at least another season.
While I don't expect any of these players or coaches to tank but at this point a win doesn't do the Raiders any favors. They just happen to be terrible in a season with several other terrible teams. They sit at third overall at the moment and if they were to win either of their two last games, it's conceivable they could finish as far down as sixth. Keep in mind that last season the top pick went to a team with two wins and the Raiders picked fifth overall with four wins. Now three wins wouldn't even get them that spot. It's pretty much a no-win situation.
Teams sure do like to activate their best players from partial season injured reserve against the Raiders. First it was the Rams who made the game against the Raiders the return of Chris Long, and now it's the Bills who activate CJ Spiller. He is a lightning quick back and unlike most backs at this point in the season, he will be fresh. He and Fred Jackson make one hell of a one-two punch and it spells trouble for the Raiders.
Make no mistake, the Bills will be focusing on taking Khalil Mack out of this game. The former University of Buffalo star is the biggest threat to the Bills moving the ball. He no longer has Sio Moore at the other outside linebacker spot to take the focus off of him. It will be up to the rest of the defense to step up and make plays. Last week the Chiefs focused on stopping Mack with great success. He was nearly a non-factor most of the game, making his biggest contribution late in the game when the Chiefs were playing out the win.
Youth is served
The Raiders are officially without both corners who started the season. Carlos Rogers was placed on injured reserve three weeks ago and now Tarell Brown is lost for the rest of the season as well. DJ Hayden is questionable but is expected to play and Chimdi Chekwa has been ruled out for the game. That means the starters will be TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden, leaving either second-year man Neiko Thorpe, rookie Keith McGill, or recently re-signed second year corner, Chance Casey getting the nickel corner duties. In previous weeks it was Brandian Ross who would step into the slot cornerback role but that was with Larry Asante available to take his place at free safety. Asante is out for the season so the Raiders need Ross to stay put. It makes for a 2-game audition of sorts for these young corners to show their skills. It's better than a preseason game as they will be going against all starters on a team fighting for a playoff berth.
Another week, another elite pass rush
Derek Carr is getting no breaks lately in the pass rush department. In five weeks time, he will have gone against the Chiefs pass rush duo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali twice, Rams trio of Chris Long, Robert Quinn, and Aaron Donald, 49ers duo of Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch, and now the Bills trio of Mario Williams, Marcel Dareus, and Jerry Hughes. This Bills pass rush is as stifling, if not more-so than the one the Raiders faced in St Louis and we all saw the result of that.
The flipside to the issues the Raiders have had with pass protection is how they have play at home versus on the road. One of those two games against the Chiefs pass rushing duo of Hali and Houston was in Oakland. And it was a very different game than the one they played in Kansas City. It was the same situation against the 49ers. The Raiders offense is far better at home than on the road. Their best offensive game of the season came in a late loss to the Chargers in week six and both of their wins came in their last two home games. Two of their other three losses came against two of the best teams in the NFL in the Cardinals and Broncos. So, there is no question the Raiders are a different team on the offensive side of the ball at home. This game also means they have sold out every game this season as well.
Ground and pound
Both of these teams should be looking to grind out a win on the ground. I say ‘should' because the Raiders ‘should' have taken that approach last week in Kansas City and didn't. After beginning the season as one of the most stout run stopping teams in the NFL, they have turned into far better against the pass than against the run. For the Bills offense, they have the aforementioned Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. They also have Kyle Orton at quarterback and with such a fantastic defense, their best game plan to put the Raiders away and keep them from coming back is to run it early and often.
DJ Hayden vs Sammy Watkins
It's the Raiders 2013 top pick versus the Bills 2014 top pick. It's also two players who may have been teammates had the Bills not traded up ahead of the Raiders to take him. Even in a deep wide receiver class as this one was, Watkins was the only receiver worth a top five pick and the Raiders would have been an ideal landing spot for him. And oh what a target he would be for Derek Carr. It's safe to say the Raiders made out pretty well with Khalil Mack - perhaps even better off - but they are still without an elite caliber number one receiver and it shows every week Carr tries to throw to a covered receiver, hoping they can make a play.
Hayden will have his hands full as the Raiders top cornerback in the game. He hasn't faced a receiver with this kind of skillset all season long. If he is the future for the Raiders at cornerback, having a good game against Watkins would be a good start.
Sammy Watkins vs Kyle Orton
There is no question of the kind of talent Watkins possesses. And yet he has surpassed 35 yards just once in the past six weeks. He can get open all day, but it won't matter if Orton can get him the ball. Granted, the Bills probably won't be putting the ball in the air much, but they can't run it every play. And as has been said so many times; you get the ball into the hands of your playmakers.
Gabe Jackson vs Marcel Dareus
Raiders rookie Gabe Jackson is quickly developing a reputation for a ‘mean streak'. Last week against the Chiefs, in an overall poor effort from the offensive tackles against the Chiefs edge rushers, Jackson was a punisher. He was pushing his defender around anywhere he wanted him to go. He will meet his match in Dareus who has 10.0 sacks and 31 pressures on the season and is tied for tied for the team lead in solo tackles along the defensive line. His 22 run stops is fifth in the NFL among defensive tackles.
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