With two games remaining in the 2014 NFL Season, the Buffalo Bills are still very much alive in the playoff hunt with an 8-6 record. This Sunday they travel across the country to take on the Oakland Raiders, a 2-12 team that’s played tougher than their record would indicate.
The Bills need help from their AFC rivals to get into the playoffs, but they’ll need to win two big road games in order to end the 14 year drought.
The Raiders are led by rookie Derek Carr, a second-round pick out of Fresno State that’s shown the potential to be the quarterback of the future. This season he’s completed 59.2% of his passes for 2,898 yards, throwing 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Outside of rookie left guard Gabe Jackson, Oakland’s offensive line has struggled mightily, surrendering 18 sacks, 22 quarterback hits and 134 pressures. The offensive line’s inconsistency has limited what Oakland can do in the passing game, so much of their offense is based around short passes. Carr has completed just 13-of-58 passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield, while 312 of his 529 attempts have traveled less than 10 yards.
Let’s take a look at some key player matchups to watch on Sunday.
Raiders LG Gabe Jackson vs Bills DT Kyle Williams
Gabe Jackson was a raw, but talented prospect coming out of Mississippi State last season, but the 6’3” 335 pounder has transitioned nicely as a rookie, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 5 ranked guard in pass protection. This week he’ll face off with Kyle Williams, one of the most disruptive three-technique defensive tackles in the National Football League.
While Williams will likely fail to match his 2013 sack total of 10.5, he’s been just as disruptive generating 46 quarterback pressures, the second-highest total among defensive tackles. Williams is a relentless player that wins by maintaining a low balance and utilizing his quickness to get into the backfield. Gabe Jackson is more of a “mauler” at the guard position, so this will be an interesting matchup to watch.
Raiders LB Khalil Mack vs Bills RT Seantrel Henderson
Khalil Mack was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of the University at Buffalo and he’s already solidified himself as one of the best young linebackers in the game. Mack is the prototypical strong-side linebacker, as he’s a relentless pass rusher that can defend the run and drop into coverage.
Throughout his first 14 games as a pro, Mack has quieted all of his doubters, generating 44 quarterback pressures, the second-highest total among 4-3 outside linebackers, while earning a ridiculous +45.7 run defense grade by ProFootballFocus, the highest mark at his position. The second highest total is Deandre Levy’s +18.4.
This week he’ll face Bills’ rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson, who’s shown the potential to be a long-term bookend opposite Cordy Glenn, but has also been inconsistent. Henderson has surrendered four sacks and 37 quarterback pressures this year, and has graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 76th ranked tackle out of 79 qualifiers. If the Bills’ offense is going to bounce out of their slump, this will be a huge matchup for Henderson.
The Bills are clearly more talented at nearly every position than the Raiders, but Oakland is definitely not a team to be overlooked. They’re a young, hungry team that hasn’t “thrown in the towel” despite their poor record. This is the definition of a trap game for the Bills, as they’ve struggled on the west coast in recent years. However, like most games this year, I feel that the Bills’ defense will prove too tough a matchup for a shoddy Raiders’ offensive line and a rookie quarterback that lacks weapons at the skill positions.
Bills over Raiders 27-13