Why We Watch: How good are the Raiders? Tune in Sunday

The Raiders are off to their best start since 2002, and Raider Nation insists you better believe in them. Maybe. But we will have a better idea where they seem to be headed after meeting defending Super Bowl champion Denver Sunday.

Von Miller photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos/Eric Bakke
Von Miller photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos/Eric Bakke

(Von Miller photo courtesy of Denver Broncos)

(Derek Carr photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders)

DENVER @ OAKLAND, 8:30 p.m. (EST)

The line: Raiders by 1

The weather: Sunny, high of 69

The story: The Raiders say they're for real and have a 5-0 road record and first-place standing in the AFC West to prove it. Ah, but that’s why this game is so meaningful. They haven’t beaten anyone this season with a winning record, and the two opponents they played over .500? Uh-huh, they lost to them … and both of those defeats were at home. So is Oakland for real? We find out Sunday. Because not only are the Raiders up against an opponent with a winning record; they're up against the defending Super Bowl champs ... as well as history. They haven’t beaten Denver at home since 2010. So they'll need help, and, lucky for them, they may find it in the absences of running back C.J. Anderson and cornerback Aqib Talib, both sidelined by injuries. Will that swing the pendulum? No, but it can't hurt.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Good news when Von Miller is next on your schedule: The Raiders rank first in sacks allowed per pass attempts (2.8 percent) and fewest sacks allowed this season with nine.


Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

The line: Vikings by 6

The weather: Dome

The story: Two weeks ago Minnesota was one of the top two teams in the NFL. Now it's not one of the top two teams in the NFC. The Vikings can't score. They can't run. They can't sack the quarterback. And they can't protect the quarterback. Oh, yeah, one other thing: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner? Gone. He resigned this week, with nobody's certain why. So Pat Shurmur inherits an offense stuck in neutral, with quarterback Sam Bradford looking more like the quarterback that couldn’t win in St. Louis. Granted, this isn’t a Must-See game, but have you looked at this week's schedule? It's brutal. So consider this the Vikings' chance to stop the bleeding vs. a quarterback (Matt Stafford) who has been very, very hot.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Bradford averages 273 yards passing per game, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.6 rating in four home starts this season.


The line: Steelers by 1

The weather: Sunny, high of 64

The story: This is the best rivalry in the NFL, though the Ravens are on a four-game bender and the Steelers might not have Ben Roethlisberger. I said might. All signs point to him playing, but that would be earlier than anticipated. If he sits this one out, it's another week of Landry Jones and, in all likelihood, another loss. Only these are not your ordinary Ravens. They switched offensive coordinators last month. They just dropped back-to-back games to the Giants and Jets, who are a 7-8 combined. And their running game is so unreliable that Joe Flacco has had to throw 40 or more times in six games already. Frequent flyer miles mean squat in a series that usually is determined not by quarterbacks or wide receivers but by defenses and turnovers.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Ten of the last 15 games between these two, including seven of the past 10, have been decided by three or fewer points.


The line: Giants by 2-1/2

The weather: Sunny, high of 57

The story: Giants' GM Jerry Reese says having Eli Manning at quarterback is a "big advantage" for the Giants in the NFC East, and he's right – if you're getting Good Eli rather than Bad Eli most of the time. Unfortunately for New York, that’s not the case. The guy has an offensive line in front of him that is porous and a running game behind him that's ineffective. So it doesn’t matter that he has Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard as receivers. He doesn’t have the time or the protection to get the ball to them, which he must here to avoid falling behind. And that's the key to this game. Reason: The Eagles outscore opponents 95-39 in the second half, including 67-9 in the third quarter, and that will be trouble for a secondary that again is missing safety Darian Thompson.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Including the playoffs, the Eagles won eight of the last nine road games vs. Big Blue.



(Photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks)

BUFFALO @ SEATTLE, 8:30 p.m. (EST)

The line: Seahawks by 7

The weather: PM showers, high of 59

The story: LeSean McCoy says he's good to go, and that’s encouraging for the Bills. What isn’t is that they're beginning their annual trip south in the standings, losing their last two and now a decided underdog in a stadium where the home team rarely loses. Plus, they fly across country. Not good. But these aren’t the Seahawks as we've known them with Russell Wilson. They have trouble scoring, their head coach admits he's "concerned" with his offenses lack of productivity, Wilson is handicapped by injuries that curtail his scrambles and their offensive line can't pass protect … not good when you consider that Buffalo leads the league in sacks. So it's up to the Legion of Boom to drop the hammer, and it will.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Buffalo is 3-0 vs. the NFC West this season.


Clark Judge -- SAN DIEGO (-- 4-1/2). Philip Rivers says he is fired up for the second half of the season, and I can see why. He opens it with Tennessee ... at home.

Ron Borges – Chiefs (-- 7-1/2). The Jaguars could not score on 12th Street and Vine at midnight.

Rick Gosselin – New Orleans (-- 4-1/2). The Saints have way too much offense for the 49ers. It would not matter if the game were played in Santa Clara or the Arctic Circle.


MIAMI RB JAY AJAYI – With 182 yards rushing Sunday, he joins O.J. Simpson (647) and Walter Payton (604) as the only backs to run for 600 or more yards in three consecutive games.

OAkLAND QB DEREK CARR – With 387 yards, he becomes just the fifth player in NFL history to pass for 900 yards in consecutive games. Phil Simms is the record holder with 945 in 1985.

NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES – With four touchdown passes Sunday, he becomes the third quarterback in league history to throw for 450 career scores – joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

GREEN BAY LB JULIUS PEPPERS – With 2-1/2 sacks he passes Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan for the fifth-most in NFL history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Peppers has 139-1/2, tied with Jason Taylor.

BUFFALO LB LORENZO ALEXANDER – With one more sack he becomes the first player since 1982 to have fewer than 10 sacks in his career and put up 10 or more in his 10th year. Alexander has nine.


Le'Veon Bell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Le'Veon Bell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)

GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. He has 15 touchdown passes, no interceptions and averages 312.4 yards per game in his last five home games vs. the AFC.

SAN DIEGO TE ANTONIO GATES. He has touchdown catches in five of his last six starts vs. Tennessee.

BALTIMORE LB TERRELL SUGGS. He has the most career sacks vs. Pittsburgh (14-1/2) of any NFL player.

JACKSONVILLE LB PAUL POSLUSZNY. He aims for his fourth straight game vs. the Chiefs with 10 or more tackles.

DETROIT DE EZEKIEL ANSAH. He has 4-1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles in his last four starts vs. Minnesota.

DENVER WR EMMANUEL SANDERS. He has 266 receiving yards and three TDs in his last three games at Oakland.


Since 2000, 40 teams that reached the halfway point with a .500 record or worse have reached the playoffs, including at least one each season. Of those 40, five advanced to the conference championship game.

The Steelers are 14-of-17 in two-point conversions the past three years, including 2-for-2 this season.

Either the Colts or Green Bay scored 30 or more points in four of the last five games between the two.

Sunday will be the Packers' last home game until Dec. 4 when they host Houston.

Cleveland is second in the league with 33 rushes of 10 or more yards and averages 4.93 yards per carry.

If Dallas wins Sunday it would mark the first time in franchise history the Cowboys won seven straight after dropping their season opener.

Only three teams haven’t allowed more than 23 points in any game this season – Dallas, Minnesota and Denver.

The Cowboys are the only team not to allow a 100-yard rusher or receiver this season.

Philadelphia is one of three teams with three or more Red-Zone takeaways this season. Kansas City (5) and Buffalo (3) are the others.

Philadelphia has 11 sacks on first down, most in the NFL, and is tied for third with 22 for the season.

The Miami-Jets game is the fourth straight home contest for the Dolphins, with the club going 44 days between away games. That is the longest length of time for any team since the 1970 NFL merger – excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season.

The Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushes of 10 or more yards with 22. DeMarco Murray is second with 21 and Jay Ajayi third with 19.