This Week 13 game between the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders could have playoff implications for both teams before all is said and done, which is significant considering the two teams have the longest active postseason droughts (17 years for Buffalo, 14 for Oakland) in the NFL.
Currently, the Bills (6-5) sit in eighth place in the AFC but just a game behind divisional rival Miami for the second wild card spot. The Raiders (9-2) currently lead the AFC West by a game over Kansas City and are tied with New England for the best record in the conference. If the playoffs started this weekend, Oakland would be the second seed (Patriots have better record in conference games) and get a first-round bye.
This will be the first time the Bills and Raiders have played each other since 2014. In that meeting, Oakland narrowly came out on top 26-24 behind two touchdown passes by then-rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
Buffalo at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Oakland -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Sammy Watkins
Watkins is listed as questionable (foot) on the team’s final injury report, but head coach Rex Ryan has said he expects his start wide receiver to play. With Robert Woods (knee) and Percy Harvin (illness) already ruled out, the Bills really need Watkins.
Earlier this week, Buffalo offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Watkins foot was still broken, something the player has since denied. Last week, Watkins played in his first game since Sept. 15 and saw 25 snaps against Jacksonville. He caught three passes for a team-high 80 yards in the 28-21 win over the Jaguars.
Oakland ranks 26th in the NFL against the pass, so Watkins should be able to have some sort of impact on this game, provided his foot doesn’t hinder him too much.
2. Khalil Mack
Mack put on another spectacular performance last week, this time against Carolina. Not only did he intercept Cam Newton and return it six yards for a touchdown right before halftime, Mack also sealed the game with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery with less than a minute to play and Oakland up by just three points. For his efforts, Mack was named the AFC Player of the Week.
Mack has eight sacks in his last six games and is a big reason why the Raiders have won five in a row. It will be up to Buffalo right tackle Jordan Mills to slow down Mack, who is making a strong case for defensive player of the year honors.
Per Pro Football Focus, Mills has allowed seven sacks, eight quarterback hits and 32 hurries this season. Mills and the rest of the Bills’ offensive line have to make sure that Mack doesn’t take control of the game by himself.
3. LeSean McCoy
McCoy has been a roll recently. Last week against Jacksonville, McCoy rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. And this came just days after undergoing thumb surgery. For the season, McCoy is top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards (891, eighth), touchdowns (9, tied for fourth) and yards per carry (5.2, third) among players with at least 100 rushing attempts.
Oakland is 26th in rushing defense (116.9 ypg), and just gave up 129 yards on the ground on 25 carries (5.2 ypc) to Carolina last week. Running back Jonathan Stewart did most of the damage for the Panthers, finishing with 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries (5.6 ypc).
With so many injuries to Buffalo’s receivers, the offense will continue to lean on McCoy on the ground, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor getting in on the act occasionally. If anything, a productive running game should make things easier for Taylor when he does drop back to pass.
Several of Oakland’s games this season have been offensive shootouts and this afternoon’s contest could follow the same script. If Sammy Watkins is effective despite the lingering foot issue, Buffalo should be able to muster enough firepower to stay with the Raiders.
The game will come down to if the Bills can find a way to limit Khalil Mack’s impact. If Mack plays the way he has the last six weeks, quarterback Tyrod Taylor will have problems getting the ball to Watkins and other receivers.
While Buffalo will keep it close, Oakland should make just enough plays to extend their winning streak to six in a row.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Bills 28
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.