By Dave Thomas
As the Oakland Raiders await a visit this Sunday from the Buffalo Bills, they know all too well how much is riding on each and every game.
After blowing a 24-point lead to Carolina this past Sunday, Oakland (9-2) rallied at home for a tense 35-32 victory over the defending NFC Champions. In doing so, the Raiders cemented their hold on the AFC West lead, though Kansas City (8-3) crept a little closer later Sunday evening with a wild 30-27 overtime victory in Denver (7-4).
So, will the Raiders avoid any late-game theatrics this week when Buffalo comes to town?
Buffalo Bills (6-5)
Even though Buffalo has had what some may call an up-and-down season, the Bills are still in the hunt for an AFC Wild Card spot. Buffalo heads to the Bay Area fresh-off a 28-21 victory at home this past Sunday over Jacksonville.
The Bills, who handed New England (9-2) one of its two losses this season, have won some games they maybe should have lost and vice-versa. That said, they are a team the Raiders must not take lightly. Another potential issue for Oakland is to avoid getting caught looking ahead to their big game at Kansas City a week from Thursday night (Dec. 8).
Buffalo On Offense
When you examine the Bills on offense, the numbers show Oakland will have to contend with Buffalo’s rushing attack, which has been led by LeSean McCoy. The former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back has rushed for 819 yards and nine TDs this season. McCoy rushed for 103 yards and a pair of scores in the win this past Sunday over the Jags.
Meanwhile, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has thrown for 2,101 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, though he has been sacked 30 times. If Oakland is to contain Taylor’s throwing game, it will look to limit wide receivers Robert Woods (42 catches, 493 yards) and Charles Clay (36 receptions, 323 yards) and others, such as Justin Hunter who leads the team in receiving touchdowns with four.
Buffalo On Defense
For Buffalo, the defense centers around Zach Brown (107 total tackles), Preston Brown (88 total stops) and Lorenzo Alexander (10 sacks). Buffalo will look to capitalize on the Raiders’ injuries. They will need to contain Derek Carr, who injured his pinky on Sunday and minimize the effectiveness of Latavius Murray, who has battled an ankle injury.
Buffalo Player To Watch: Sammy Watkins
While it’s clear the Raiders will need to focus on McCoy and Taylor on Sunday, they will also need to prepare for Sammy Watkins. After missing eight games, he returned to the lineup in Week 12. He was on the field for nearly half of the Bills’ offensive snaps and improved as the game progressed. Come Sunday, the Raiders must prepare for the deep threat that Watkins possess, as he is a key offensive weapon who can’t be overlooked.
If Oakland can come away with its 10th win of the season, it will be in a good position to control its own destiny the final four weeks of the regular season. With upcoming road games at Kansas City, San Diego (Dec. 18) and Denver (Jan. 1), the margin for error is minimal at best.
What the Raiders want to do (like this past weekend) is avoid a slip-up against a team they should beat. Having met 39 times, Oakland holds a slim 20-19 advantage in the all-time series. Oakland won the most recent encounter, a 26-24 victory in the Bay Area two seasons ago.