Oakland has put up two nice wins against solid teams in Kansas City and San Francisco in their last two games at home. How much better are they in O.co Coliseum than they are on the road?
Damien: Marginally. That is to say, they are actually a decent football team on their home field. That usually hinges on the quarterback, because there is less pressure at home without the crowd noise. He can better orchestrate the offense. However, part of the reason behind those wins were other factors. The Chiefs were on the road in a short week after having just gone through a hard-fought game against the Seahawks. They were worn out, and got pushed around, especially late in the game to give up the lead.
The 49ers have looked terrible lately against everyone. The Raiders dialed up the right formula on defense and the offensive line was unexpectedly fantastic, allowing Derek Carr a lot of time to throw. And since East Coast teams aren’t known to struggle when coming West, that doesn’t really give the Raiders an advantage in that area.
Speaking of Carr: has he done enough to warrant a shot at the starting job in 2015 after the inevitable firings and hirings occur in the coaching ranks?
Damien: Yes. He has shown NFL quarterback abilities. What he needs now is for the game to slow down for him. That is a common problem among rookie NFL quarterbacks. He is pushing, and trying to do too much. The coaching staff has also been putting a bit too much on his plate. Some of that is by necessity, of course, with a lack of overall talent on the team. He has shown that if he has a serviceable run game, an offensive line that can give him at least a little bit of a pocket now and then, and a true number one receiver, he can make some things happen. That’s a lot to ask for in one off-season, but that’s the goal.
What have the early returns and reviews been like for UB product Khalil Mack in his rookie season?
Damien: Better than they could have expected. If teams realized he was going to be as dominant as he is on the NFL level, he never would have been on the board at the fifth overall pick. He would be a Texan right now. I have personally described him as nearly unblockable, and Pete Carroll said almost that exact same sentiment about him. Brian Hoyer said Mack earned the respect of himself and the entire Browns locker room after they faced him earlier this season. He is among the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
It’s rather ironic; had the Bills had drafted him, I have little doubt he would be the unanimous choice. I say that because the Bills traded ahead of the Raiders to take someone else, though drafting Mack may not have made the most sense for them. If he were with the Bills right now, he would probably be a lock for Rookie of the Year. With the Raiders, he is the focal point of opposing offenses, and yet he still puts up good numbers.
When you see a 2-12 team, you think one thing, but then you see their recent run at home, plus five losses by one touchdown or less, and that changes the perception a little bit. In your honest opinion, is Oakland as bad as their record indicates?
Damien: That’s a difficult question to answer. Of course, if a team were to play all the worst teams in the league, they would have a better record. The Raiders had a brutal schedule this season, and while it contributed to their current record, they have not exactly been knocking on the door. They have been an incredibly uneven team all season. Those losses that appear close are not to be taken at face value in most cases. They lead the league in touchdowns in the last two minutes, because in all but one of those cases, they were down by at least two scores with no chance to mount a comeback. What they call "garbage time." Even their 31-13 loss in Kansas City last week wasn’t really that close. They were down 31-6 with under a minute left in the game.
What's your prediction for this Bills-Raiders game?
Damien: Bills win, 23-13
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