|Offenses for Raiders, Bills alive, well|
One team is 3-4 and the other is 4-2, which is what one might have expected for Sunday's matchup between the Oakland Raiders and the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.
But few would have expected Buffalo to sport the winning record and be in playoff position in late October. Even fewer would have forecast Oakland to be sitting a game under .500 and celebrating the end of a four-game losing streak with last week's wild 31-30 win over Kansas City.
Yet that's where these teams are, in part because the NFL has a way of insuring parity with scheduling and the draft, but also because of variables beyond anyone's control.
Take, for instance, the sudden disappearance of the Raiders' offense during their four-game slide. They scored 71 points in season-opening wins against Tennessee and the New York Jets. They managed a mere 53 points in the next four.
The come-from-behind win over Kansas City was more like it, as least as far as Oakland was concerned. Quarterback Derek Carr, who missed losses two and three due to injury, threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns.
Eleven of those 52 throws were snagged by Amari Cooper, who gained 210 yards and reversed an early-season trend of being quiet. Going into Week 7, Cooper had only 18 receptions for a paltry 146 yards.
"You're getting more into strategy stuff," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said when asked why Cooper broke out. "I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that ... I understand the desire to talk about that. We're just happy he had a great night."
As it tries to make up a two-game deficit on Kansas City in the AFC West, Oakland will be shorthanded. Running back Marshawn Lynch will serve a one-game suspension Sunday after being ejected from the Chiefs' game for contacting a game official during a melee involving Carr and Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters.
Lynch's appeal of the suspension was denied, meaning the Raiders will turn to a combination of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the ground game. The duo combined for 64 yards on 18 carries against the Chiefs, with Washington scoring a touchdown.
"Last year definitely got us prepared for this situation," Richard said. "It's a situation we've had before."
Buffalo also won last week on the strength of its offense, a departure from its early identity of relying on tough defense. In the Bills' 30-27 squeaker over Tampa Bay, quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 268 yards and ran for 53, while running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 91 yards and his first two touchdowns of the year.
Only once before in his career had Taylor thrown for 250 yards or more in a game his team won. He spiced it up by finding former Virginia Tech teammate Logan Thomas, who came into the NFL as a quarterback and has switched to tight end, for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Thomas was seen as a potential Heisman Trophy winner entering his junior year at Virginia Tech, but regressed his last two seasons. That play, as well as 107 receiving yards by the unheralded Deonte Thompson, epitomizes what Buffalo has been through six games.
"The great part about it for us is that at this point, where we are and what we've done and what this group of players and coaches have done, every week someone new is stepping up," first-year coach Sean McDermott said. "I'm excited to see who steps up this week."
Two guys McDermott might want to see fulfill that prophecy are safety Trae Elston and right tackle Jordan Mills. Elston might have to step into the lineup in place of Jordan Poyer, who injured his knee against Tampa Bay and seems unlikely to go. Poyer has been one of the team's top defenders with 33 tackles and seven pass breakups.
Mills has the unenviable task of keeping Khalil Mack away from Taylor. Mack is the star of an otherwise average-at-best Oakland defense, capable of deciding games with his ability to get to the quarterback. What's more, Mack figures to be motivated for this one, since he played college ball at the University of Buffalo.
"That's why the preparation and process are so important," McDermott said. "You respect what it takes to get yourself to where you need to be in order to put yourself in a position to win."