NFL Preview - Buffalo (8-6) at Oakland (2-12)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Just when you start to believe in the Oakland Raiders, they give reason not to.
Of course, the reality is that the Raiders' 2014 season was a lost cause long before their visit to Kansas City last weekend. But when they got within just four points in the third quarter - after having won two of three games coming in - there was at least some reason for middling optimism.
Less than five minutes later, though, those positive thoughts were a distant memory.
Three Chiefs touchdowns in a stretch of 4 minutes, 42 seconds - including one after a fumbled snap by quarterback Derek Carr -- started the death spiral toward an eventual 31-13 loss, which plunged the Raiders to 2-12 on the season as they head into a Week 16 home game with the Buffalo Bills.
Oakland had 10 penalties in the defeat, and its 103 infractions for the season are eighth in the league.
"You can't do those kind of things in any football game," Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano said. "But you certainly can't do those things when you're on the road and in an environment like that, and kind of feed their ego with false starts and with penalties and then turn it into a game that you have to throw the football as much as we had to throw the ball with that kind of pass rush."
Carr completed less than half of his 56 passes against Kansas City, while totaling 222 yards and connecting for a touchdown alongside four sacks. He's been slightly better at home in his rookie season, including 10 TDs and just three interceptions in his last five games at the O.co Coliseum.
The Bills haven't won a game in Oakland since 1966 and haven't beaten the Raiders franchise on the road since a victory in Los Angeles in 1991. That theme continues for Buffalo overall, as it strives to end a postseason drought - the longest in the league -- that stretches back 15 years to 1999.
A 21-13 win over visiting Green Bay last week ensured that the Bills would finish at .500 for the first time since they went 9-7 in 2004. Jumping from respectability to the playoffs, however, will take a little more.
Buffalo is last among the nine AFC teams who've registered eight or more wins - thanks to a 4-6 in-conference record and losses to fellow 8-6 teams Kansas City and San Diego. A berth would not only require a win in Oakland, but a follow-up victory at New England, where it is 0 for its last 13 efforts.
The defeat of the Packers saw Buffalo snuff the offensive of the most-prolific scoring team in the league and prompt a career-high 25 incompletions, a career-worst 34.3 passer rating and two interceptions from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Bills haven't allowed a passing TD in six of its last seven games and its pass defense - which yielded 210.1 yards per week - is No. 5 in the league.
The Green Bay win came a week after a loss to Denver in which Buffalo gave Peyton Manning a forgettable stat line that included 14 completions, two interceptions, 173 yards and no touchdowns.
"We have to obviously continue to play like that but once we do that, now the mark is set," cornerback Corey Graham said. "Now you got to expect that every week from everybody and that's what we got to do. We've got to make sure we're locked in and ready to go every week."
The offense could certainly use the same swagger.
The Bills got four field goals, a safety and a punt return touchdown against the Packers, which didn't help the 31st-best ratio of touchdowns (20) to red- zone possessions (49). Quarterback Kyle Orton completed 14-of-27 passes for 158 yards and an interception, alongside three sacks.
No wide receiver or tight end caught more than two passes.
"We've got to do a better job," Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said. "We've got to protect better, got to run routes better, we've got to get a better rhythm."
A boost could arrive in the form of running back C.J. Spiller, who broke his collarbone in Week 7 and hasn't played since. He's second among all running backs since 2010 with a 5.0-yard average per carry, and is listed as probable against the Raiders.
"He's a guy who's made plays in the past," Marrone said. "Any time you can bring back someone who's a potential playmaker obviously helps."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Crash the Carr
The Bills enter the game with 49 sacks and they'll face an opponent in the Raiders who's not exactly erected fortress-like walls around Carr all year, and allowed four sacks in last week's loss to Kansas City.
Thus, it'll be incumbent upon Oakland's Latavius Murray, who had 59 yards against the Chiefs, to be effective enough to draw containment attention from Buffalo ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes.
Sling it to Sammy
A common denominator in Buffalo's six losses this season has been the limited production of Sammy Watkins, who's scored just one TD and exceeded 100 yards in one game as well. Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown has surrendered just one TD among the 42 passes completed in his direction in 2014, and help from veteran safety Charles Woodson should keep the game from becoming a Watkins showcase.
OK, Coach Marrone, it's your move. The Bills have gone from long-term laughingstock to having the dreaded "trap game" label hung on them. It's incumbent on the second-year boss to make sure his team handles the cross- country trip to meet an inferior foe, on the Sunday prior to a visit to the perennial AFC East powerhouse that could be the final obstacle to a January return. Score one for preparation.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 24, Raiders 20
12/18 14:12:12 ET