105.5 The Team – The Bills travel west for the third time this season to take on the 9-2 Raiders, needing to come away with a win. While the eye test may leave you thinking there is no way the Bills can win this game, the Raiders have some glaring weaknesses that have left the line for this game hovering around -3.5 for Oakland. Slowing down their explosive offense – led by Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray and others – is the big challenge, however because of their weak defense – even with University of Buffalo standout Khalil Mack – they’ve struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Four of their five victories have come by a margin of three points or less and all four required scoring 28 or more points to win.
It’s all about the Bills offense keeping pace with a Raiders unit averaging 27.9 points per game. Here’s this weeks three musts for the Bills to earn a win in Oakland:
1) Run the football
This first one is easy and obvious. The Bills win game by running the rock and Oakland’s defense is giving up 116.9 yards per game, a figure that ranks 26th in the NFL. They’ve yielded more than 100 yards rushing to opponents eight times this season, more than 125 yards rushing five times, and more than 150 yards rushing two times. Meanwhile for the second straight season Buffalo leads the league in rushing, based on yards per game (157.4), yards per attempt (5.3) and are tied with Dallas for rushing TDs (20). It’s no surprise that versus teams that rank in the bottom third of the league in stopping the run, as Oakland is, the Bills have fared well running the football. Against San Francisco, the worst rushing defense in the league, Buffalo compiled a season-high 313 yards. Against the 28th ranked Bengals, how about 183 yards rushing. And just last week against Jacksonville’s 24th ranks run defense, 153 yards. The only dud is the 67-yard effort against Miami’s 30th ranked unit, but keep in mind that’s a game LeSean McCoy left early with a hamstring injury. The fact still remains, Buffalo will gash you if you can’t stop the run and the Raiders have proven they can’t.
2) Third Down offense
Running the ball is important, but as we saw last week in the first half against Jacksonville, it’s not a secret to opponents anymore. Don’t be surprised if the Raiders deploy a similar strategy as the Jaguars and load the box, daring Tyrod Taylor to pass. They can’t be one dimensional or get off to a sluggish start like they did last week. Balanced, lengthy drives become very important for the Bills if they have any chance of keeping pace with Oakland. Entering Sunday Buffalo is converting a little over 39 percent of their third downs. Meanwhile, Oakland’s third down defense ranks in the top five in the league, allowing opponents to convert just 35 percent of their third down tries. The Bills have to find away to keep the ball moving on third down and it starts with staying ahead of the sticks. If they’re constantly going three-and-out they’ll leave their defense gassed. That’s a recipe for disaster against these Raiders.
3) Do what teams have failed to do, get pressure on Derek Carr
Now don’t get it twisted, Derek Carr is a great quarterback, but a major part of his success this season can be attributed to what’s been the best pass protecting O-line in the league. As a unit the Raiders offensive front has yielded a league low 12 sacks and 26 QB hits. That’s a ridiculous average of 1.1 sacks per game. Meanwhile, the Bills boast the second best pass rush in the league, averaging three sacks per game. The chess match between Rex Ryan implementing his exotic blitz packages and how Oakland’s offensive line adjusts to them will be fun to watch. And if the Bills can somehow find a way to create some chaos and panic for Carr, it could lead to a win. Easier said than done.
Last week’s 62-yard catch got me thinking about how the Bills fare when they throw the ball deep to Sammy Watkins, versus when then fail to get the vertical game going with him. Buffalo is a perfect 4-0 when Watkins makes at least one reception of 50 yards or more in a game. Conversely they’re only 3-8 when longest reception is 20 yards or less. Moral of the story, throwing it deep to Watkins pays dividends.
With Ronald Darby out, Rex Ryan said he will entrust rookie Kevon Seymour getting at the left cornerback spot, with Corey White getting some work at safety and corner. Seymour made his first career start as a slot CB in Week 9, but this will be the first time he’ll do so on the outside of the secondary. He couldn’t be greeted with a more difficult task considering the duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be lining up at receiver for the Raiders. A pair that has combined for 126 catches, 1,633 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Let’s see how he responds.
It’s been all eyes on Sammy Watkins this week after sitting out Wednesday’s practice with foot soreness then upon returning to the field, learning from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn that he’s still playing with a broken bone in his foot. Ultimately, it results in his status for Sunday being questionable, but Rex Ryan was confident he’ll play. Same goes for the questionable DT Marcell Dareus, who suffered an abdominal injury last week and was limited at practice everyday.
Nine other are listed as questionable as well, including LB Lorenzo Alexander (ankle), S Sergio Brown (hamstring), TE Charles Clay (knee), RB Mike Gilislee (hamstring), T Cordy Glenn (back), WR Marquise Goodwin (wrist), G Richie Incognito (neck), S James Ihedigbo (ankle), G John Miller (shoulder).
Only three players have been ruled out ahead of kickoff in CB Ronald Darby (concussion) and WRs Percy Harvin (migraines) and Robert Woods (knee).
For the Raiders lead back Latavius Murray (ankle) and WR Michael Crabtree (ankle) were limited at practice all week and are listed as questionable. Both are a crucial part of Oakland’s offensive attack, but have had the same designation each of the last two weeks and played. If anyone was thinking Derek Carr’s pinky would be an issue, think again. He practiced all week and hasn’t seemed bothered by it. He may end up wearing a glove like he did to finish last week’s game against the Panthers, just for a little added stability.
At first glance this may seem like a lopsided matchup because the Raiders are 9-2 with one of the best offenses in the league. However, the fact that the spread is only -3.5 in favor of Oakland is telling. Yes, Oakland’s offense is electric, they’re averaging 27.9 points per game, but Buffalo isn’t too far behind, posting 25.5 points per game themselves. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that the Raiders defense isn’t very intimidating, even with a monster like Khalili Mack in the middle of it. There will be opportunities for Buffalo to score, but they’ll have to avoid a sluggish start like we saw last week and have better success on third down. Like the betting line suggests, this game is going to be closer than it seems on paper. The reason I’m going with Oakland is because the Bills have only beaten one team that’s better than.500 this season and that’s the 9-2 Patriots, who at the time had a rookie, third-string QB under center. It’s a difficult trend to overlook until they prove otherwise. Raiders win 28-24 and push the Bills playoff dream to the brink.
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