Before the 2018 NFL season began, a Week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins that led into a Week 4 home game against the Cleveland Browns felt like it might provide a bit of a respite. Now that we’re here, however, the Dolphins are sitting at 2-0 and even next week’s visit from the Browns looks less appealing with their Thursday Night win over the New York Jets.
Before looking ahead to the Cleveland Baker Mayfields, however, let’s take a look at what to watch for on Sunday morning:
Are you awake?
With a 10:00 AM west coast start time, this one will be tough for the Oakland Raiders. While the Dolphins have yet to leave the east coast, the Raiders will be traveling across the country for more heat and an early start. Last season, west coast teams who traveled cross-country for these early games were just 5-10 and from 2009-2015, the Raiders lost fifteen straight in that time slot. With two losses already under their belt, the Raiders are going to need to rise and shine early if they want to get their season back on track.
Can you stay awake?
While the early morning start is one thing to watch, the second will be whether the Raiders can stay engaged for the full 60 minutes. Last week against the Denver Broncos — in altitude and extreme heat, to be fair — the Raiders defense fell apart in the second half, getting exactly zero stops in the final 30 minutes. This all was capped off by the game-winning drive from the Broncos in which the defense seemed to be moving in slow motion.
As it stands, Sunday’s forecast is calling for 89-degree weather and 70 percent humidity, so while they won’t be at altitude, the conditions won’t be a whole lot friendlier.
Another test for the offense
When you think of the Los Angeles Rams and Broncos, you think of defense, but the Dolphins? Well, through two games, the Dolphins have allowed just 16 points per game — good for fourth-best in the league so far. To be fair, they’ve done it against the Jets and the Tennessee Titans (in a seven-hour marathon thanks to weather), but the story remains that this should offer Derek Carr and company a challenge.
Last week, the Raiders offense broke out with Carr and Amari Cooper finally getting on the same page and if the Raiders want to get to 1-2, they’ll need more of that this Sunday.
Tannehill vs. Raider DBs
After missing the entire 2017 season, Ryan Tannehill has looked good so far this season — completing 72.5 percent of his passes while throwing for four touchdowns. On the flip side, he has thrown two interceptions and fumbled the ball twice.
Last week, Rashaan Melvin made the first big play of the season for the Raiders defense, picking off a Case Keenum pass in the red zone. Safe to say the Raiders will need more of that from Melvin, Gareon Conley and the rest of the defense.
Jordy Nelson was expected to replace Michael Crabtree in the Raiders offense and so far that simply hasn’t been the case. In two games, Nelson has just five catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns, while Crabtree has eight catches for 94 yards and one touchdown. Last week, the focus was on getting Cooper involved and I’d expect a similar game plan for Nelson in the near future.
Prediction: 28-20, Raiders
Last week, I predicted a one-point game, but I just had the wrong team winning. This week, I think the Raiders come out strong again and are able to hold on against an overrated Dolphins team. A win in Miami might not look like much, but I think it’s exactly what head coach Jon Gruden needs to begin the process of getting this train back on the tracks.