By Dave Thomas

For all NFL teams, the routine off the field is as important as anything they do on the field. When it comes to the Oakland Raiders, their routine is shaping up to be a tad different as October winds down.

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After defeating Jacksonville on the road last weekend 33-16, the Raiders elected to pass on a cross-country flight home to the Bay Area, especially with another game in Florida this weekend. With Tampa Bay looming on the schedule this Sunday, Oakland (5-2) chose to plant itself in the Sunshine State for close to two weeks, allowing it to avoid long trips coast-to-coast. Time will tell if that strategy pays off.

With the Jacksonville game behind them, the Raiders have since turned their focus to Tampa Bay, a 3-3 team with a fighting chance in this season’s NFC South race.

Tampa Bay, which rolled past the lowly San Francisco 49ers in the Bay Area last Sunday 34-17, hope to catch the Raiders looking ahead to a big AFC West showdown on Nov. 6 at home against the rival Denver Broncos. On the flip side, the Raiders hope to leave Florida with a pair of wins against teams that they are better than, at least on paper.

Latavius Murray’s Return Sparks Raiders’ Running Game

Although he was held to 59 yards of rushing in the win at Jacksonville, Oakland running back Latavius Murray’s return did give the team’s mediocre rushing attack a spark.

Murray, who had missed a few previous games with a toe injury, can certainly give Oakland a boost again if he goes this Sunday. To date, Murray has rushed for 231 yards on the season (58 carries), with five TDs to boot. By having Murray in the backfield (at least somewhat healthy), it takes pressure off of QB Derek Carr.

Carr, who has passed for 1,808 yards and 13 TDs through seven games, can make opposing defenses think twice if he has Murray to hand the ball to. It is no secret that Oakland would like to use its passing game as much as possible, especially when you have two quality wide receivers in Amari Cooper (40 receptions, 614 yards, 1 TD) and Michael Crabtree (39 catches, 461 yards, 6 TDs).

Defense Needs To Corner Winston

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Even though Oakland held Jacksonville to just 16 points, the test this week should prove a little more difficult.

While still suffering some growing pains, second-year QB Jameis Winston is showing signs of emerging as a threat at the position as he gains more experience. Winston, who came into the league as a No. 1 overall pick in 2015, tossed three TDs in the win over the 49ers last Sunday. Combine that with his ability to run the ball when needed and Oakland could be in for a formidable test come Sunday.

Does Less Time In The Air Translate To Victory?

If you followed the NBA Finals over the last several decades (most fans in the Bay Area have at least the last few years with Golden State representing), you know that the NBA went to a 2-3-2 Finals format for a couple of decades (it has since gone back to 2-2-1-1-1). This most notably came out of Boston and Los Angeles (Lakers) meeting in the Finals for a number of years. To cut down on air travel, the NBA decided to have the format where the series would have three “middle” games (Game 5 if necessary) at the same site. Instead of the more traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format, so airplane travel was reduced.

For the Raiders, the decision to arrive in Jacksonville a few days before last Sunday’s game, and then stay in Florida until after this Sunday’s game in Tampa, may or may not work.

Although Oakland closes December (and Jan. 1) with three of four games on the road, it does get four straight home games starting next month with Denver.

While some head coaches gripe about the schedule handed to their teams, others know it is just goes with the territory and it usually evens out for the most part.

If the Raiders do leave Florida with a pair of wins, great for the Raiders. That being said, head coach Jack Del Rio will tell anyone willing to listen that it means nothing if the Raiders do not come home the following week and take care of business against Denver.

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As Oakland spends a few more days in the Sunshine State, it hopes less time on an airplane translates to a 2-0 Florida record.