Coming off their most impressive victory of the year, the Oakland Raiders approach a fork in the road as the halfway point of the schedule nears. At 3-4, they would move to .500 for the first time in 2012 with a win over the 3-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They would officially thrust themselves into the AFC West chase with their third straight win.
By contrast, a home loss would push them to 3-5. With games at the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, and versus the New Orleans Saints (all three playoff teams in 2011), the schedule only intensifies.
So in many ways, this is a defining game in the 2012 season. A third straight win validates the success of the past two weeks against lesser teams. A loss makes the pundits seem right in putting the Raiders among the bottom feeders of the National Football League.
Tampa Bay will not be an easy matchup, even with their recent personnel losses, most notably marquee free-agent addition Carl Nicks. Coming off a 36-17 dismantling of the first-place Minnesota Vikings, the Bucs also look to move to .500 and will be immensely confident. While the Raiders have their hands full, they do have the means to attack Tampa Bay. That said, here are the five keys, starting with No. 5.