The bags are packed, the plane is fueled up, and the Oakland Raiders are just about ready to take off and hit the road for the better part of the next two weeks.
After taking care of business last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Silver and Black now find themselves squarely back in the mix in the hotly-contested AFC West, but they’ll have their hands full as they hit the road for back-to-back games away from the friendly confines of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
First up for Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his squad is a trip to Upstate New York to take on the Buffalo Bills, and with no shortage of intrigue heading into Week 8, here are six things you need to watch for Sunday afternoon at New Era Field.
1. How does the Richard/Washington tandem handle an increased workload?
Without the services of Marshawn Lynch Sunday in Buffalo – No. 24 is currently in the midst of serving a one-game suspension – the Silver and Black will rely heavily on their tandem of second-year running backs, Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington.
Both Richard and Washington have enjoyed quality starts to their second seasons in Silver and Black, but their roles will likely be just a tad different this week in the wake of Lynch’s absence.
Through seven games, Lynch has unsurprisingly handled a bulk of the rushing responsibilities – “Beast Mode” has 72 carries while Richard and Washington have 52 combined – but that script will be flipped Sunday afternoon.
The Bills allow just 84.5 yards per game on the ground, so No. 30 and No. 33 will have their work cut out for them; I’m excited to see how they respond.
2. Defensively, who lines up out wide for the Silver and Black?
It looks like once again Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.’s group will be thin in the secondary, at cornerback in particular.
Without the services of Gareon Conley, and likely David Amerson as well, I’m going to be keeping a close eye on who the base cornerbacks against the Buffalo Bills will be. Head Coach Jack Del Rio continually says that the NFL is the epitome of a next-man up league, and that’s the philosophy that the team’s defensive backs will have to implore at New Era Field.
Granted, Jordan Matthews is the team’s most-productive wide receiver with just 172 yards, but anything can happen on game day, particularly with Tyrod Taylor at the helm of the offense.
3. Speaking of defensive backs…
Will this be the game the Raiders secure their first interception of 2017?
Headed into their matchup with the Bills, the Silver and Black are the only team left in the NFL without an interception, and while picks aren’t the be all, end all statistic, I’m sure that Ken Norton and the defensive staff would like to tally an interception sooner than later.
“Something that has been very consistent for us over the years is getting after the ball and getting the turnovers,” said Norton Thursday. “It hasn’t happened yet. It’s going to happen. It’s our fabric. It’s who we are. It’s a matter of us continuing, emphasizing, working it, making it important. It’s going to come. We know it’s coming. It’s just a matter of we don’t want to wait any longer. Let’s do it now.”
Let’s hope that wait does indeed come to an end Sunday afternoon.
4. How does Amari Cooper follow up his career day?
Man, Amari Cooper had a pretty good day at the office last week, huh?
In one, fell swoop, No. 89 erased his slow start to 2017, and reminded everyone that he’s indeed one of the most explosive wide receivers in the game.
The NFL is a week-to-week league though, and “Coop’s” 210-yard performance is now in the rearview mirror, so now I’m looking forward to seeing how he builds off his big game.
The Bills rank just No. 26 against the pass, so hopefully Cooper and friends can take advantage of that, and get loose a little bit after the catch.
5. Can the team limit LeSean McCoy?
It’s hard to overstate how important LeSean McCoy is to the Bills offense.
Not only is McCoy far and away the Bills leading rusher, he also ranks second on the team with 220 receiving yards too.
Head Coach Del Rio said earlier in the week that McCoy is one of the best running backs in the game, and even now in his ninth NFL season, “Shady” is showing no signs of slowing down.
Can the Silver and Black find a way to keep him in check? We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.
6. Will Mother Nature play a role?
According to our good friends at weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Buffalo calls for morning showers with a high of 48 degrees. In other words, a far cry from the nice heatwave we’ve had the past few days in the Bay Area.
The weather in Upstate New York is notoriously fickle, so you can never know for sure what the weather will look like until closer to game time, but make sure to keep an eye on the forecast as we approach kickoff.
Rain? Wind? We’ll have to have to sit tight and wait to find out.