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Focal points: Raiders at Miami

This week the Raiders travel to Miami to face the 3-8 Dolphins. Both teams have been hot of late with the Raiders winning three in a row and the Dolphins winning three of their last four games. The Dolphins seem to have found ways to win lately after starting the season 0-7.

Underdog to the rescue

The Raiders are currently in first in the AFC West while the 3-8 Dolphins are in last place in the AFC East. Yet the Dolphins are the favorite to win.

There are a few factors playing into this odd logic. First reason is the Raiders are first in a bad division. The Chiefs and Chargers have been reeling of late while the mysterious Denver Tebows are surging. This has the rest of the sports world under the impression that the Raiders are posers riding a weak division to a good record. Second reason, and by the same token, the Dolphins are seen as being in a good division. The Bills were surprisingly good early in the season despite falling lately, the Jets will continue to be overrated until further notice, and the Patriots are the Patriots.

The final reason is the play of the Dolphins’ defense. They lost to the Cowboys last week but during the preceding three game win streak, they hadn’t allowed an offensive touchdown. The Raiders had a lot of problems last week with the Bears defense and didn’t score a touchdown until late in the game. The Dolphins defense is seen in much the same light. The difference is while the Bears’ new starter Caleb Hanie was throwing interceptions, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore is expected to take much better care of the football.

Keep in mind, this isn’t an opinion coming from NFL analysts or anything like that. Although there are likely a few of them who picked the Dolphins to win this game as well. This is the Vegas odds which is decided by people putting money on the game. This means it is regular people, or those that bet on games anyway, who think the Dolphins are a stronger team. We’ll see if that is literally “where the smart money is on” when these two hot teams square off.

Ro sham bo

Rolando McClain is in line for a suspension either by the Raiders, the NFL, or both for his actions last Wednesday in which he allegedly assaulted a man, put a gun to his head, and squeezed off a round right by his head. Hue Jackson said he would not delve too much into his decision making until he spoke to McClain but after this incident, I would be surprised if he plays in this game.

With McClain out of the game, the Raiders turn to Darryl Blackstock at middle linebacker. With as many issues as McClain has had, Blackstock has been far less effective. There is also the chance that Aaron Curry could take over in the middle. However, Curry has never really been known for his football intelligence so that could be an even worse scenario.

Either way, the Raiders will suffer for not being at full strength in the linebacking corps. They have no legitimate backup middle linebacker on the squad. The closest they have is Jeremy Leman who is on the practice squad. It is far too late in the week to consider calling up Leman to play the most important position on the defense.

There are no good options. While we talk about how a middle linebacker must have a high football IQ, it seems unlikely McClain possesses that either because he sure doesn’t possess much in the way of common sense. This will cost McClain a lot of money and perhaps eventually his job. But for now it is costing his team the most.

Moore or less

Denarius Moore has been Carson Palmer’s best option among the receivers on this team. Denarius is his favorite target and last week Palmer often struggled to find an open man without the rookie receiver in the lineup.

It was thought that Moore was the most likely of the injured players to return this week. He is one of many of the fastest Raider players who were out last week with injury. The other speedsters were Jacoby Ford, Darren McFadden, and Taiwan Jones. The Raiders have a lot of world class speed on their squad. As of right now the only one of them who is certain to be on the field is Darrius Heyward-Bey. But DHB doesn’t offer the same threat in the receiving game for which Denarius has become known.

Denarius has been ruled out for Sunday’s game after not practicing all this week. With the Dolphins defense as solid as it is, the Raiders need as many mismatches as they can get. Denarius is probably the most important of all because of the trust Palmer places in him.

Without Denarius in the game this week, we could see more dead end drives ending in field goals. But without a great number of turnovers, don’t expect those field goal chances to come anywhere near as often. The Raiders will need a lot more production from DHB, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, and TJ Houshmandzadeh to make up for Moore, and Jacoby Ford’s absence. Otherwise it could be a very long day.

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