The Raiders took over as the new front-runners in the wacky AFC West after coming through with a pivotal 24-17 Thursday night win at division-rival San Diego on November 10th, placing the Silver and Black one game ahead of the Chargers, Denver and Kansas City in the crowded race.
Oakland, which entered the contest off potentially-damaging home losses to both the Chiefs and Broncos, bounced back with inspired performances on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Carson Palmer had by far his best outing since joining the team in a midseason trade, second-string running back Michael Bush piled up 242 yards from scrimmage in place of injured standout Darren McFadden and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley registered four sacks to lead a defense that took down San Diego signal-caller Philip Rivers six times and intercepted him twice.
Palmer amassed 299 yards on only 14 completions in his second start and third appearance as a Raider, while connecting on two long touchdown passes to rookie receiver Denarius Moore.
“We haven’t seen the best of him yet in my opinion,” Oakland head coach Hue Jackson said of Palmer, who sat out the season’s first six weeks due to a dispute with his former employers, the Cincinnati Bengals, and threw six interceptions in his first two games following his Oct. 18 trade to the Raiders. “He’s just warming up. He will continue to get better and continue to grow. What we’ve got to do is consistently keep growing him, and he’ll keep getting better and this team will follow.”
Here’s the keys for a Raiders win for this Sunday in Minnesota when they take on the Vikings.
1. Contain the Run – Oakland’s success this season has been predicated on whether or not the defense is able to adequately contain the run, In the five games in which the Raiders have allowed 100 rushing yards or less, they’ve won each time. Conversely, they’ve given up a troubling average of 211 rushing yards per game in their four defeats. The Vikings are a good running team and have a true difference- maker in Peterson, and keeping him from going ballistic will be a challenge for Oakland’s inconsistent group.
2. Go After the Vikings Secondary – The Raiders will be sure to attack a Minnesota secondary that’s been beset by injuries and off-field issues throughout this season and was hardly an air- tight crew when it was at full strength. Oakland isn’t a dink-and-dunk sort of team — it prefers to swing for the fences when throwing the ball — and the Vikings won’t have much of a chance if their defensive backs let the Raiders’ lightning-fast receivers get behind them for big plays.
3. Palmer needs to Step Up – Quarterback play. Minnesota is capable of winning this game if Ponder performed like he did in a victory at Carolina two weeks back, when the rookie threw for 236 yards on a sharp 18-of-28 passing and didn’t have a turnover. It’ll be tough to come out on top if he’s hitting on half of his attempts, however. Likewise, Palmer needs to be the guy who skillfully bombed away on the Chargers and not the quarterback who was giving the ball away at will in his first two games as a Raider.
Prediction – The Raiders are the better of these two teams and have played well on the road, and a repeat of their most recent effort would surely get the job against a Minnesota outfit that has it’s share of liabilities. They’ve also been wildly erratic, however, as the back-to-back home losses to the Chiefs and Broncos will attest, and Peterson could pose a major problem for a defense that’s been suspect against the run. The Vikings won’t be as overmatched as they were on Monday and should be eager to atone for a brutal performance, and it’s unlikely Bush will have quite the impact he did in the San Diego game this time around. In a matchup in which neither participant inspires a great deal of confidence, Minnesota’s potent running game and Oakland’s tendency to throw in a clunker may give the home team an ever-so-slight edge. Vikings 31 Raiders 27