By Abraham Gutierrez
For only the 38th time, the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders will lock horns, this time at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on Sunday night. Even though the Raiders come in leading the overall (head-to-head) series, 19-17-1, Jack Del Rio & Co. will be trying to snap a 5-game losing streak against the Fins.
In fact, one has to look all the way back to the 2007 NFL season to find the last time Oakland defeated Miami. Since then, the Raiders have lost in Oakland, three times in South Florida and once in London, which marks their most recent clash back in 2014.
Raiders NFL 2017 record: 3-5-0
Prior to the start of the 2017 NFL season, the Raiders were considered the biggest threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC after going 12-4-0 a year ago. Eight weeks into the new campaign, however, the Silver and Black are two games under .500, and it appears their best bet would be to sneak into the postseason as a Wild Card team.
Oakland is coming off a very disappointing showing last week in Buffalo. After defeating the Kansas City Chiefs the week prior, the Raiders were unable to get anything going on either side of the ball in frigid conditions. Thus, Oakland was crushed 14-34 by the surprising Bills, who remain perfect on the season at Orchard Park.
Raiders on Offense
Offensively, the Raiders' struggles have caught everyone by surprise, especially considering how explosive and dynamic this unit was a year ago. In retrospect, it appears that the Raiders made a huge mistake in letting go former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (current Denver Broncos' QB coach) and allowing former quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to take his spot.
After finishing last season ranked sixth in total yards and seventh in points, the Raiders offense is currently 20th in total yards (317.8), 19th in points (21.1), 26th in rushing yards (88) and 15th in passing yards per game (229.8).
The addition of East Bay native and running back Marshawn Lynch (72 carries, 266 yards, 2 TDs) was supposed to make this offense unstoppable. Yet midway through the season, the former Seahawks player has been more of a "Bust Mode" than the "Beast Mode" Oakland thought it was getting in the offseason.
But it's not all Lynch's fault, as some of last year's Pro Bowlers have yet to pick up where they left off a year ago. Wide receiver Amari Cooper's play (34 receptions, 404 yards, 3 TDs) has left a lot to be desired, while the Raiders' entire offensive line has been a dud, allowing 13 sacks through eight games compared to last year's 18.
Raiders on Defense
Defensively, this unit is so bad that most Raiders fans are wondering how defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. still has a job. Entering Week 9, the Oakland defense ranks 25th in total yards (356.9), 23rd in points (23.8), 22nd in rushing yards (120.4), and 21st in passing yards (236.5).
Last week against Buffalo, the Raiders "D" simply gave up, allowing Bills running back LeSean McCoy to light them up for 151 yards on 27 carries and a score in a 20-point shellacking. It's clear that Miami's rushing attack could've been the focal point of the Fins' offensive gameplan versus the Raiders this week.
However, given the fact that Miami shocked everyone by trading away Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles (for a fourth-round pick) prior to the trade deadline, Oakland's defense might have very well caught a break.
Raiders Players to Watch: Derek Carr, Khalil Mack
After sitting out last week's loss due to a suspension, one could almost guarantee that Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch is due for a breakout game at Miami. That said, quarterback Derek Carr (155-for-240, 1654 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs, 90.9 QBR) is the heart and soul of this offense, and thus, he's the player to watch. After throwing 28 touchdowns and only 6 picks a year ago, Carr is off to a rough start. Nevertheless, it could turn into a very long night for Miami if the 2-time Pro Bowler and this offense get going.
On the opposite side of the rock, there's absolutely no question that Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (42 tackles, 4.5 sacks, PD) is the player Miami has to account for at all times. Much like his signal-caller, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn't quite in mid-season form yet (2016 NFL stats: 73 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 PD, INT). Given Miami's offensive-line woes, Mack will be looking to put his stamp on this game for a "D" that's currently -6 in turnover ratio and has yet to come up with a single interception all season.
Despite not playing well on the East Coast, Oakland comes into Sunday night's clash as the betting favorites over Miami, according to the NFL Week 9 point spreads. NFL Week 9 oddsmakers have the Raiders (-3) favored by a field goal against the Dolphins (+3). The OVER/UNDER is set at a combined total of 44 points and straight-up money lines go as follows: Oakland Raiders (-160) vs. Miami Dolphins (+140).
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