The red-hot Oakland Raiders (7-4) are preparing to go across the country to face the Miami Dolphins (3-8). Many would like to call this a trap-game for the Raiders, but there is no such thing in December.
That's especially the case when the Raiders have the Denver Broncos just one game back in the AFC West. Then there's the fact that the two teams played last year and it was the Dolphins that came out victorious.
The Raiders surely won't forget the 33-17 behind-kicking they took from the Dolphins last year. The revenge factor in the game will be at Level 10 for this young group.
The matchups between the two teams are not identical to last year's, as the Raiders have injuries and the Dolphins lost a player or two.
Turn the page to see what this all means toward my predictions for the game.
As far as due process goes, Rolando McClain should be available to play in Sunday's game, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't play that. But I predict that the Raiders are going to stop the run no matter who plays middle linebacker for the Raiders.
That's because the Dolphins have switched out running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams for Reggie Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas. So far this season, the two have combined for just 3.9 yards per carry.
This is just what the Raiders needed to improve their numbers against the run.
Over the last three games, the Raiders have allowed a quarterback rating of just 64. They've intercepted seven passes and sacked the quarterback 15 times over that time frame.
The coverage has been there with Lito Sheppard coming to Raider Nation to join forces with Stanford Routt to form a formidable corner tandem. Then you have Michael Huff getting over his ankle injury at the slot corner and rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke improving rapidly.
Guys like Tommy Kelly, Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour will harass Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore, making it even harder on him. Jake Long has been good this year, but not his normal self, so I'm going to go out on a limb and predict two sacks for Wimbley.
Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall will end up frustrated early when Moore can't get him the ball, and check out.
The Dolphins have the No. 24-ranked pass defense, so Carson Palmer will have a big day. He seemed to get better with his new cast of receivers last Sunday, so I look for more of that from the beginning this Sunday.
Both Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens are supremely talented wide receivers whose careers have been marred by injuries. Murphy played well against the Dolphins last year, catching four balls for 75 yards with a 29-yarder included.
Schilens, along with Murphy, seemed to start to get in sync with Palmer as the game went along after a not-so-good start. That's usually how it works when you have receivers who aren't used to playing as starters.
Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and fullback Marcel Reece are a couple of more weapons that will also be lurking. The Dolphins are in the middle of the pack in sacks, while the Raiders have one of the better pass-protecting offensive lines in the league.
Palmer will have time to look for all of these weapons.
From last year to this one, the Raiders offense has been built to run the ball to set up the pass. I'm predicting this game to be the exact opposite, as Palmer has consistently connected on his deep balls for the Raiders.
On throws over 30 yards, Palmer is 75 percent, averages 40 yards per completion, has a touchdown and a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. Even without injured Louis Murphy and Denarius Moore, there will be some big plays made.
That will scare the Dolphins into some Cover 2 defense, allowing the Raiders to get their running game off. The Raiders need not even try to run the ball straight up the middle though, because Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai will be lined up on Raiders center Samson Satele.
This doesn't bode well for the Raiders because Satele isn't any better than he was last year. Speaking of last year, Soliai took Satele's lunch, ate it, and threw it up on his shoe soon thereafter.
Raiders running back Michael Bush should once again have a good day in Darren McFadden's stead—running to the left and off tackle, set up by the pass.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the battle of field position will be won by the Raiders. Punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski will have firm control of that with their big kicking feet.
Janikowski will also use his kicking foot to score somewhere around nine points for the Raiders on Sunday. On the return end of things, Bryan McCann will at least give the Raiders good field position off of punt and kick returns.
Ford, who ran a kickoff back against the Dolphins last year, may not be missed on special teams with McCann in the fold.
I know the Raiders are going to the East Coast, where they haven't fared well of late, but my overall prediction matches that of all the predictions I made in the article. I expect the Raiders to win big because the focus should be there as they smell the playoffs around the corner.
Not only do the Raiders want to avenge last year's horrible loss, but they want to prove they can't finish out east, unlike in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills. On top of that, I just don't think the Dolphins have the horses to get this one done.
The Raiders as a team are 4-1 and Palmer's quarterback rating is 120 on the road.
I need not say more.
We'll talk after the game.