Skeleton Keys: Week 13

In 1991 the league’s first African-American head coach would lead a silver laden team of football giants to the AFC Championship game.  Despite this incredible social accomplishment, the team would go on to be decimated by Jim Kelley and the Buffalo Bills.

I remember watching this game when I was 13 years old. I was holding out hope for a Bay Area Super Bowl as the cross town rivals were playing the NY Giants that same weekend. It was NY vs. the Bay Area and I was all in. Needless to say, the Bay Bridge football tilt never happened.

Fast forward to 2016 and that team of swarthy bandits has returned to the doorstep of greatness. This weekend, the Oakland Raiders are poised to take on the same franchise that landed a punishing 51-3 loss on them in 1991. In 2014, this up and coming Raiders team was able to exact some revenge on that same franchise by eliminating them from the playoffs. This year, the tables have turned and the stakes have been raised.

A win in Oakland this weekend propels the Raiders to a 10-2 record that would almost guarantee them a playoff berth and hopefully buy them some more breathing room in the AFC West (Go Atlanta!). Furthermore, a Buffalo (6-5) loss would all but eliminate them from a tight AFC playoff race that has no room for teams hovering around the .500 mark. All things considered, both of these squads have a lot on the line this Sunday.

Buffalo comes into town flaunting the number one rushing offense in the league averaging 158 yards per game. LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor have combined to deliver 1,731 rushing yards over the course of 12 games in the 2016 season. On the flip side, Buffalo has the absolute worst passing offense in the NFL. Much of this can be attributed to the absence of their young star WR Sammy Watkins.

Though Watkins returned in Week 12 to post 3 catches for 80 yards, early reports this week are that he has sustained a broken bone in his foot. The word is that this a pain tolerance issue and that he would be cleared to play if he can manage it. What might sound promising to Raiders fans, should be treated with caution. A healthy amount of tape and a shot of who knows what can put this guy on the field on short notice.

Despite being last in the league in passing, Tyrod has only thrown four picks this season and the team as a whole is doing quite well in the turnover department. Though they’ve fumbled the ball 10 times; they’ve only lost two of them to the opposition. Combine a dominant running attack with an offense that doesn’t cough up the rock and a defense that is second in the league in sacks (33) and you can quickly see why Buffalo isn’t a team to look past—even with the KC Chiefs looming around the corner on Thursday Night Football.

You see, if we’ve learned anything about the revamped Oakland Raiders, it’s that nothing has come easy for them this season. The Pillagers in Black have earned every bit of that 10-2 record in a wild 2016 season that has half of their victories stemming from 4th Quarter comebacks led by Derek Carr. As Khalil Mack would say…”By Any Means!”

Keeping McCoy to 100 yards or less AND out of the end zone is the number one priority in this game. With the return of David Amerson, Oakland is more than equipped to deal with their lackluster receiving corps. Despite his craftiness, I don’t believe in Tyrod’s ability to win football games with his arm. That being said, stuff McCoy and put it on Tyrod.

Easier said than done considering Latham and McGee appear to both be out for this week’s matchup. Both McGee and Latham have been two of Oakland’s best weapons against the run this season. With the two big boys out, Oakland will lean on it’s diamond in the rough, Perry Riley Jr., to anchor the middle of the field as Mack and Irvin set the edge all afternoon. Aldon and Mario…we miss you.

The biggest threat Buffalo possesses on defense is their ability to rush the passer.  Buffalo has tallied 33 sacks through 12 weeks—second best to only Denver. I’ll say it right now; this doesn’t scare me one bit. Why? I have five reasons why: Penn, Osemele, Hudson, Jackson, and Watson.

Oakland is the best team in the league at protecting the quarterback and has only given up 12 sacks all season long. In case you forgot that same line dominated Denver’s QB killing defense (34 sacks) for a full 60 minutes on national television. Subsequently, Derek Carr doesn’t fear the blitz. In that same game, #4 achieved a 94.8 QB rating against 16 blitzes. When the young swashbuckler wasn’t pressured, he netted a 65.4 rating. In short, bring it on!

Buffalo’s rush defense ranks near the bottom of the league. This combination of a stellar pass defense offset by the inability to stop the run netted 218 yards rushing for the Silver and Black against the defending World Champions. Not too shabby.

Oakland’s passing attack is going to do what it does. Very few, if any, have really slowed them down. If Derek Skywalker’s hand holds up, look for them to attack in quick routes and screen plays to capitalize on a Ryan brothers’ defense with a penchant for exotic blitzes and foot massages. Mix in a heavy dose of the 10th ranked running back committee and this offense can and will neutralize Buffalo’s scrappy defense.

Putting points on the board hasn’t been Oakland’s problem (28 per game). It’s keeping them off that’s the issue (25 per game). Oakland’s much maligned defense may be better than perceived however, and looks to be improving. While ranked near dead last for the entire season, Oakland now ranks in the middle of the pack in rushing and passing defense through their last four games.

Furthermore, Oakland ranks 4th in the league in stopping opponents on 3rd down. For those that argue this is due to Oakland giving up too many early first downs, they are also currently 5th in the league averaging only 18 first downs allowed through their last three games.

Lastly, the Raiders are the 3rd (+0.9) best in the turnover ratio column, just ahead of Buffalo who is ranked 4th (+0.7). I don’t foresee many turnovers happening in this game. Although, as mentioned earlier, Buffalo has been lucky enough to recover 9 of its eleven fumbles. That being considered, Oakland will have opportunities to find the ball on the ground. I’m looking at you Mack and Irvin!

Oakland vs. Buffalo and this time it counts. Buffalo hasn’t seen the playoffs since Z. Cavaricci pants were in style. Oakland is on the verge of a Silver Renaissance. Buffalo is feigning relevance.

Who’s your winner? Who’s your MVP? How badly do you miss Aldon? Let us know in the prediction poll located in this site’s sidebar.

Enjoy the game and Go Raiders!


Where: O.Co Coliseum

When: 1:05pm PT

Broadcast: CBS

Written by: Kenny Stapler (@pillagejust4fun)