Quarterback Derek Carr
After a quick jaunt to Mexico City to host the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders are officially back in the Bay Area to resume their slate of traditional home games.
This week, they'll play host to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and although the reigning NFC Champions are currently two games under .500, there is nobody in the Raiders locker room taking the Week 12 matchup at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum lightly.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25, but before the Raiders and Panthers clash at the OACC, here are five questions we have heading into the game.
1. Can the Raiders find a way to limit Cam Newton?
Newton's stats might not be on par with what he did last season during his MVP run, but make no mistake about it, not only he is one of the most-dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL, he's still the engine that makes the Panthers offense go.
"He's as fast as most everybody out there," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio when asked about Newton. "He has tremendous size. He has really developed as a passer. He was the MVP last year for a reason. The guy is a really good football player, and he's a threat not only to throw it but to run it as well."
Head Coach Del Rio is right, as the 6'5" 245-pound Newton poses a unique set of challenges for a Raiders defense that has been steadily improving as of late.
The former Auburn Tiger is the prototypical dual-threat quarterback, so if Ken Norton, Jr.'s group can find a way to limit Newton's effectiveness, it would pay huge dividends in slowing down the Panthers offense as a whole.
2. Will the run game reignite?
The Raiders are 8-2, and sitting atop the AFC West, and a big reason for that is the offensive balance that the team has enjoyed for a majority of the season.
In addition to Derek Carr and his statistical excellence through the air, the Raiders offense has also been able to lean on a Top 10 rushing attack, spearheaded by running back Latavius Murray.
However, the Silver and Black's trio of backs – while impressive in the passing game – weren't able to really get things rolling on the ground last week against the Texans, finishing the day with just 30 rushing yards in total.
Going forward, the group knows that they'll have to return to their dominant ways on the ground, but doing that Sunday afternoon will be no easy task, as they are set to square off against a Panthers defensive front that ranks second in the league against the run, allowing just 81.8 yards per game.
The Raiders are at their best when they're balanced offensively, so I'll be watching closely to see if they can indeed find that balance once again.
3. Can Khalil Mack record a sack for the sixth game in a row?
So much Khalil Mack's slow start, right?
Through the first month or so of the regular season, the Raiders All-pro defensive end's lack of dominant stats was a constant source of conversation, but those conversations have ceased, as Mack has really rounded into form as the season has gone on.
Check this out: after tallying just one sack through the first four games of the season, Mack has secured seven in the past five games, and has found himself ranked once again in the Top 10 in sacks in the NFL.
The Panthers boast a dynamic, multi-faceted offense, there's no doubting that, but through the first 10 games of the season, they have shown to be susceptible to allowing sacks, as the group has given up 25 sacks thus far in 2016.
Seeing that number likely makes No. 52 eyes grow wide, so keep a close eye on Mack and see if he can keep his hot streak going.
4. Will the short week affect the Silver and Black?
Playing on a short week always presents a challenge; add in the fact that the Raiders flew back from Mexico City in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and you have even a bigger challenge, but alas, that's the situation the Silver and Black find themselves in heading into Sunday's showdown at the OACC.
However, give the Raiders credit, they're not lining up excuses, in fact, Derek Carr and Co., are embracing the challenges of preparing on a short week.
"You have to hit the ground running and so that's fine with me," said Carr. "That's fine with our team, because we have a plan, we have a good plan that Coach Del Rio put out there for us. So, it's good for us, but I would say that's really the only disadvantage in a short week, is that extra day where you can get a little extra in or whatever."
Conversely to the Raiders, the Panthers haven't hit the gridiron since Nov. 17, so Ron Rivera's group should be well-rested for their Week 12 matchup with the Silver and Black.
Sunday's game between the Raiders and Panthers will likely be a highly-contested one, so especially as the game wears on, I'll be interested to see how the Raiders in particular hold up.
5. Will Greg Olsen be a factor?
Now nearly a decade into his NFL career, Greg Olsen has shown no signs of slowing down in 2016.
The 31-year-old tight end currently leads the Panthers in both receptions (54) and receiving yards (745), and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. knows that his group has a big task in front of them Sunday afternoon in containing the two-time Pro Bowler.
"He's smart," Norton said of Olsen. "He's fast. He runs really good routes. He understands leverage, and he catches the ball well. You always need a good guy throwing you the ball and he's got a really good quarterback, really good strong arm, that trusts him."
Olsen has developed a good rapport with Newton since the pair became teammates in 2011, so the Raiders would be well served to find a way to limit the big tight end, and force Newton to utilize his other weapons.