The Miami Dolphins suffered their first loss in their last four games when they traveled to Dallas and lost on a last-second field goal. They showed toughness and confidence and proved to everyone that they belong at the top of the league.
They have had 10 days to prepare to host the Oakland Raiders, who are leading the AFC West but have the Broncos breathing down their necks. They will look to bring their potent rushing attack to Miami and inch closer to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Miami will have to come out the same way they have the last month if they expect to win. Matt Moore has been outstanding and will need to continue to play at a high level. Miami has a big chance to upset the Raiders and shake up the playoff picture.
Let's look at five things the Dolphins must do to win this game.
The Oakland Raiders boast the third-best rushing attack in the NFL, with an average of 156.8 yards per game. They have a great running back in Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, who appears to be out for this game. They have scored a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns and base their whole offense on how effectively they can run the ball.
Miami, on the other hand, has the seventh-best rush defense in the NFL, giving up just 97.5 yards per game. They have only allowed three touchdowns, good for second-best in the league. Miami will have to win the battle in the trenches and stop Oakland's running backs from getting big chunks of yardage. They have to force quarterback Carson Palmer to throw the ball and make him win the game.
Oakland has the 19th-ranked passing offense and have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. If the Dolphins manage to stop Oakland's running game, this one might get out of hand.
Miami will definitely have to score touchdowns in the red zone if they want to win. Last week against Dallas, the Dolphins entered the red zone on four occasions, and they kicked a field goal each time. When they get that close to the end zone so many times, they have to score touchdowns.
In their three victories, Miami's touchdown percentage was 80 percent. In their losses, their scoring percentage was 39 percent. They have to be more creative in the red zone and confuse the defense with different plays. Anthony Fasano is a big target and, even though Brandon Marshall has had trouble catching the ball in the end zone, he will win a lot of the matchups.
Instead of calling fade routes to Marshall or run plays through the middle with Reggie Bush, Miami needs to use other players and give the defense different looks.
Brandon Marshall is Miami's biggest play-maker. He is a threat to score on every play and will take advantage of Oakland's secondary. He has been playing his best football of the year lately and will not let up this week.
The Raiders have the 20th-ranked passing defense and are giving up just over 240 yards per game. They have allowed 18 passing touchdowns and have had trouble all year long stopping anybody through the air.
The Raiders' defensive backs are going to have their hands full with Marshall, and he can potentially have one of his best receiving games of the year.
Reggie Bush and Charles Clay present matchup nightmares for any defense. They can line up in the backfield, in the slot or out wide. They are too fast for linebackers and can win matchups against cornerbacks and safeties.
Bush has been the lead back in Miami this season and has played at a high level during the past month. He has given the Miami offense much needed explosiveness in the passing game and at times in the running game.
Clay can be lined up anywhere in the field and can present a matchup nightmare against anyone. Linebackers are too slow, and cornerbacks are too small. He can line up in the slot and make short catches, or he can run downfield and make catches over corner backs.
If the Dolphins utilize both of these guys' skills, they will have big games offensively.
The Miami Dolphins' defense has been playing lights-out lately and needs to continue their high level of play on Sunday. They will have their hands full with the Raiders rushing attack and the 11th-ranked offense in the NFL.
Like I said before, Darren McFadden will probably be out for this game, but he will be replaced by another great running back in Michael Bush. Miami will have to take advantage of their seventh-ranked rushing defense and make Carson Palmer beat them.
If the defense can stop the run consistently and they are able to get pressure on Palmer with Cameron Wake, they will annul the Raiders' offense and come away with a victory.