Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum:
1. This game is more winnable than it appears; treat it that way. Contrary to what the teams' respective records indicate, the 6-5 Bills don't necessarily have to play over their heads to get a victory against the 9-2 Raiders.
Teams have been putting up points against the Raiders all season, and the Bills have shown they're capable of scoring. They should be even better equipped to reach the end zone more often if Sammy Watkins, who returned last week after missing eight weeks, is able to play despite his lingering foot issues.
The Raiders also don't play nearly as well at home, where they've suffered both of their losses, as they do on the road.
The key for the Bills is not to press to the point where they're making mistakes and committing stupid penalties. If they play their game, they can come out on top.
2. Tyrod Taylor gets better protection than he received against Jacksonville, which sacked him five times. This won't be easy. The Raiders have one of the NFL's very best pass-rushers and all-around disruptive forces in linebacker Kahlil Mack.
The former University at Buffalo standout pretty much put the Raiders on his back in Sunday's win against Carolina. He returned an interception for a six-yard touchdown, forced and recovered a fumble, had three quarterback hits, and helped seal the outcome with a fourth-down sack of Cam Newton.
The Bills will devote extra blocking attention to him, but they also should be able to take advantage of his aggressive, upfield surge with Taylor's scrambling and screen passes. Taylor's ultra-quick feet figure to give the Raiders problems near the goal line.
Otherwise, Taylor has to have more time to work from the pocket, because that will enhance the chances of him hitting on plays such as his 62-yard connection with Watkins against Jacksonville. The Jaguars focused heavily on containment with their speedy linebackers who excel at sideline-to-sideline pursuit, and it was effective.
The Raiders are more about bringing middle pressure than trying to string plays out. That will present a huge challenge for center Ryan Groy, making his third start in place of injured Eric Wood, and guards Richie Incognito and John Miller.
3. LeSean McCoy makes his presence felt immediately. Before he took off on that career-best 75-yard touchdown run at the start of the third quarter Sunday, McCoy was going backwards.
The Bills need to work him outside more often, as opponents have caught on to the tendency of setting him deeper and having him find his running lanes between the tackles. McCoy can do more damage when making jump cuts on the perimeter or following Incognito and/or Charles Clay on pulls.
The Raiders have proven to be particularly vulnerable against misdirection plays.
4. The Bills' run defense makes the Raiders one-dimensional. Granted, that passing dimension of the Raiders is highly dangerous. Derek Carr is one of the few quarterbacks you don't want to focus on beating you with his arm.
However, as with any team, the absence of a rushing attack makes throwing the ball more difficult. The Panthers held the Raiders to 55 rushing yards and a 1.8-yards-per-carry average, and that had plenty to do with the fact Oakland needed a Sebastian Janikowski field goal with 1:45 left to win the game.
The Bills found out just how much better off they are with tackle Marcell Dareus in the lineup. He gave a dominant showing against the Jaguars, only his third of the season after a suspension and hamstring and groin injuries. He missed the final 10:46 of the Jacksonville game with an abdominal injury that could cause him to miss his ninth game of the season.
But if the Bills have the Dareus of the past two games on the field, they will have yet another difference-maker to go along with the strong play they're getting from Kyle Williams. With Corbin Bryant being placed on IR, there's even greater dependency on the solid depth from Leger Douzable, Jerel Worthy, and Adolphus Washington.
5. The Bills' pass defense must step up to the challenge of slowing down one of the NFL's most dangerous passing attacks. This is doable. Carr is dealing with a badly dislocated pinky finger on his throwing hand, so it's reasonable to assume he might not be as effective with his throws as he has been for most of the season.
Stephon Gilmore played his second strong game in a row Sunday, and will have to be every bit as good against the highly explosive receiving duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
The potential absence of Ronald Darby, who is in concussion protocol, could be a problem, although the Bills could do worse than have Corey White and/or Kevon Seymour in his place.
It's also incumbent on the Bills to hold up at safety, where their depth has been compromised by injuries. So far, recently signed free agent James Ihedigbo has made a positive impact.