The Oakland Raiders want to cap off their 10-day road trip with a happy flight back to the Bay Area; the only thing standing in their way now is a date with the Miami Dolphins.
For the first time since Week 3, the Silver and Black are playing on Sunday Night Football, and while the Dolphins own statistically the worst-ranked offense in the NFL, they're still a group that has won three of its past four games, and is still in the thick of things in the AFC East.
Kickoff against the Fins is scheduled for 5:30 pm PST; here are six things you should be keeping an eye on.
1. The return of Marshawn Lynch
We haven't seen Marshawn Lynch play a full game for the Silver and Black since the Week 7 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers – he was ejected from the team's Thursday Night Football matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs – but after serving a one-game suspension, "Beast Mode" will be a full go Sunday night against the Dolphins.
Last week in Buffalo, the Raiders struggled to get things going on the ground, totaling just 54 rush yards, and while some of that lack of production was caused by playing from behind most of the game, the return of No. 24 will be a welcome one.
Derek Carr said earlier this week that it's always exciting to get a teammate back, regardless of why they missed time, and I'm excited to see if Lynch can infuse a shot of life into this Raiders offense.
2. Speaking of returns…
It sure sounds like we're going to see rookie safety Obi Melifonwu hit the field for the first time this regular season Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium.
The athletic rookie was put on the reserve/injured list September 5, but has been practicing with the team since October 17. He's eligible to make his return to game action – well, debut really – this Sunday, and we've been given every indication that is indeed what is going to happen.
When asked about what he would like to see from Melifonwu against the Dolphins, Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., joked that he'd just like to see him on the field, but with all the injuries currently ailing the Raiders secondary, inserting a strong, athletic player like the former UConn Husky into the mix will hopefully benefit the group as a whole.
3. It's all about ball security
There are myriad reasons that the Raiders fell last weekend to the Buffalo Bills; LeSean McCoy had an outstanding second half, Tyrod Taylor proved to be elusive all afternoon, and for whatever reason the offensive just couldn't sustain its early success, but Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group certainly didn't help itself either.
At day's end, Head Coach Del Rio's team had turned the ball over four times, while not securing any takeaways from the Bills; it's tough to win a game with that kind of ratio.
Last year, the Raiders defense seemed to be able to force turnovers at just the right time, but for whatever reason, that hasn't been the case in 2017.
While Norton's group would be well served to force a few takeaways, it's also vitally important that the team's offense holds onto the ball, and doesn't give away any gifts to the Dolphins.
4. Is this the week?
I won't touch on it too much, since it's been a constant topic of discussion, but we've now gone through eight regular season weeks, and the Raiders have yet to tally an interception.
Now, interceptions aren't the be all end all statistic in football, but at this point, I think everyone on the Silver and Black's defense would breathe a little easier if the team is able to snag a pick.
The Dolphins quarterbacks have thrown eight interceptions this season, so the Raiders will have their chances to make plays, let's see if they can take advantage.
The Silver and Black have several players from the state of Florida on the roster, but Sunday's game is set to be a homecoming for a few of those players in particular.
Both Amari Cooper and Johnny Holton are from Miami, and the Sunday night game against the Dolphins will be the first time the tandem have suited up at Hard Rock Stadium as professionals.
Cooper said earlier this week that it's always been a dream to play in front of his friends and family in Miami, and after buying 100 tickets, Holton will no doubt have a large contingent of folks rocking No. 16 jerseys in the stands too.
There are a flood of emotions before any game, but I have a feeling that homecoming games might carry a little extra weight, at least pregame. Once the game kicks off, it's business as usual.
6. Oh, Sunday Night
This is going to be the second time this season the Silver and Black will appear on Sunday Night Football, and after losing to the Washington Redskins 27-10 in Week 3, hopefully this primetime clash goes a little bit better for Derek Carr and Co.
Everything about primetime is a little bit different; obviously, the schedule is pushed back a few hours since kickoff is a little later in the evening, but everything feels a bit different headed into primetime.
Sunday night, when the Raiders hit the field at Hard Rock Stadium, they'll be the only game on TV. In dire need of a win against the Fins, the eyes of the NFL world will be squarely on them and the Dolphins; let's see how Head Coach Del Rio's team responds.