The Raiders haven’t been favored to win a game in quite some time. Oddsmakers expect the Oakland will beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum, but they also expect a close contest.
Those forecasts should run true.
The first home crowd since Sept. 15 should give the Silver and Black a lift in a crucial game that starts a run of easier opposition, but make no mistake: the Lions are no slouch. It will take the Raiders’ best to beat them.
Here are five players key to a win the Raiders need in order to snap a two-game slide.
OL Richie Incognito
See the position just to the left of Incognito’s name? It should say “LG” for left guard. We had to leave it generic this week because there’s legitimate uncertainty surrounding where he’s going to play.
The Raiders would prefer he stays put. Incognito has been solid this year and has formed a great partnership with left tackle Kolton Miller in the running game. Incognito might have to slide over to center if starter Rodney Hudson and backup Andre James can’t play with ankle sprains. Both guys are formally questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. Incognito took snaps in their place and has played center before, but is clearly Plan C.
James is most likely of the two centers to play, though Hudson’s so tough he can never be ruled out. Keep an eye on where Incognito lines up, though the Raiders need him to be awesome playing in either spot.
WR Tyrell Williams
The Raiders unquestioned No. 1 receiver rarely posts on social media, but he tweeted this week a vow to be after two ill-timed, game-changing drops in his return from a two-game absence last week against the Houston Texans. Expect him to be.
Williams is a reliable downfield target who should rebound well against the NFL’s worst pass defense. Cornerback Darius Slay can play, but there should be openings deep and short for Williams to have a big day and continue his steady scoring. He has five touchdowns in as many games and should see more favorable coverage with the receiver corps whole with Zay Jones up to speed.
Williams must be productive and threat who creates space for others. He’s the catalyst for other aspects of the passing game and must play well for the air attack to function at a high level.
DE Benson Mayowa
The Raiders' most experienced and efficient pass rusher must continue solid play against quarterback Matt Stafford, who can beat anyone if allowed to operate from a clean pocket. Mayowa has made them dirty this year, with a team-high 5.5 sacks in six games.
The 28-year-old was a surprise scratch against Indianapolis but has been an agitator in every other game. Mayowa's primarily a situational pass rusher, so solid run defense could get him on the field in position to cause havoc.
The Raiders have matched their sack total from last year but still rank just 25th in that category. Mayowa must breathe life into the pass rush and start a game-long trend of hounding Stafford.
LB Tahir Whitehead
The Lions average just 3.6 yards per carry, but they run a ton. They run more than pass despite relative inefficiency and continued to do so even after feature back Kerryon Johnson was lost for the season.
The Raiders' run defense has been effective most of the season, and while it takes all 11 to shut opponents down on the ground, Whitehead leads the effort as a field general. He thrives in that role, which he had last year and assumed once again after Vontaze Burfict was lost for the year. Getting guys in the right gaps and then surging forward to make strong tackles will be key against a Lions team so committed to running the football.
This is also Whitehead’s first regular-season game against the team that drafted him in 2012 and employed him six seasons before he became a Raider. This is a big one for Whitehead and the Raiders need him at his best.
WR Zay Jones
Jones makes the list for a third consecutive week as he continues to increase his snap count while adjusting to a new offense. He played 22 snaps in his first Raiders action last week, only half of which were passing plays. Coach Jon Gruden gave him a pair of easy, seemingly designed opportunities and he caught both targets for 27 yards. Eventually the Raiders have to let him loose despite inexperience in the offense in order to get his obvious talent on the field more often. This seems like a golden opportunity, against a struggling pass defense.
Jones has the ability to make big gains and prove he can be more efficient than his numbers with the Bills suggest. A big game would help get him into the offensive flow, diversify the Raiders' passing game and allow it to find a solid rhythm throughout the pattern.