1. Get a lead, then bring the heat. The Bills still lead the NFL in sacks with 49, despite just one in the past two games. That’s forgivable against two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who are tough to sack. The Bills should be able to pad their numbers against Oakland. Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr, pictured, is coming off a game against Kansas City in which he was sacked four times and hit 11 others. The Raiders’ offensive line has given up 145 total pressures, according to the advanced statistics website Pro Football Focus, tied for sixth most in the NFL. Right tackle Khalif Barnes in particular will have his hands full against Mario Williams. If the Bills can jump out to an early lead and put the Raiders in a situation where they need to throw the ball – Oakland is the worst rushing team in the league – that should allow them to tee off on Carr.
2. Drive starts favor the Bills. Field position should be in the Bills’ favor. Oakland ranks dead last in the NFL in opponent kickoff return average, allowing 31.9 yards per return, and is 31st in opponent punt return average, at 11.9. Last week against the Chiefs, the Raiders allowed 222 punt- and kick-return yards, including an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by DeAnthony Thomas. Buffalo returner Marcus Thigpen had a punt-return touchdown of his own last week, and should get some opportunities. According to advanced statistics website Football Outsiders, the Raiders are giving opponents an average drive start near the 33-yard line, the worst in the NFL. The Bills, meanwhile, have been starting drives near their 31-yard line, which ranks third in the NFL. When they get short fields, they need to capitalize.
3. Turnover battle is one-sided. Oakland has just 11 takeaways this season – tied with the Jets for second fewest in the league. Meanwhile, the Raiders have given the ball away a whopping 27 times, a minus-16 turnover ratio that is the worst in the NFL. The Bills are second in the NFL with 30 takeaways, and their turnover ratio of plus-10 is fifth in the league.
4. Injuries are accompanying an insulting record. Oakland had seven players sit out practice Wednesday, not including linebacker Sio Moore, who became the fifth Raiders defensive starter to go on injured reserve earlier this week. In total, Oakland has 13 players on injured reserve, including nine defensive players. University at Buffalo product Khalil Mack is Oakland’s lone remaining starting linebacker still playing. The Raiders have just four linebackers on the roster, forcing practice squad player Spencer Hadley to move from fullback to linebacker this week for some depth at practice.
5. Avoid a letdown. This is new territory for many of the Bills. They are big favorites on the road and face the pressure of needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The shoe has been on the other foot in the past – when the Bills were the team with nothing to play for. They should know there will be no pressure on the Raiders. “They’re going to be ready for us and not going to roll over for us so we have to come out, match their intensity, and try to get a win,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said. That’s exactly the right approach.
Outlook: Barring that letdown, this is a game the Bills should have. After two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the defense gets to feast on a rookie. The playoffs are still a remote possibility, but the first winning season since 2004 is significant. The Bills should get that Sunday.
Prediction: Bills 26, Raiders 13.