Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Miami could doom this stuttering Raider Nation
Psychologically speaking, it's hard to recommend a team turning out on the back of a 40-0 shutout the previous week. After all, breakdowns are not typically followed by breakthroughs. That said, the Miami Dolphins may yet turn out to be that rare side who put the past behind them, or better yet employ a painful memory as an immediate motivation.
On the plus side, they do return to Florida and the home comforts of Hard Rock Stadium (I'll refrain from any rock-and-a-hard-place analogies) for a lead performance in the national spotlight of primetime TV. In short, if the Dolphins can't get up for this, they're not warm-blooded mammals.
More good news is provided by the likely return of Jay Cutler under center, alongside his preferred wideout, DeVante Parker. Both pivotal players attended full practice this past week and are expected to start, although their status is officially classed as questionable.
For his part, Cutler is rebounding from a multiple rib injury, so head coach Adam Gase has backed his man to play tough and win ugly. Chicago Bears' fans might scoff at such wishful thinking, having seen Cutler down his elite tools in a number of settings over the years, demonstrating an attitude that made him one of the more unpopular players on the circuit.
However, much of that was down to Cutler's dazzling skill set, and the accompanying expectations. He's certainly managed to lose the 'tude since arriving in Miami, and remains the best man for the job. Especially when the next man for the job is Matt Moore.
Miami also somewhat strangely traded perhaps their best player in Jay Ajayi to the Eagles of Philadelphia last week. It's not as if a 7-1 Philly needed the help. Then again, things have seldom been straightforward with Ajayi since his breakout Pro Bowl season, and the 100-yard games have dried up with some dodgy knees and a flighty commitment.
Gase has no-one with whom to replace him, though, so shorter throws and better control from Cutler may well be the order of the night. While JC's cannon arm can still deliver the deep downfield ball, death by a thousand shorter cut may well prove the best policy against this porous Oakland D, who have struggled on the east coast of late (a meagre 4-20 for their past 24 matches).
It's certainly surprising to see the Raiders at this low ebb at the term's midway point. Due to a succession of bad breaks and untimely injury blows (chiefly concerning QB Derek Carr) they have fallen from legitimate Super Bowl contenders in last year's postseason to regular season also-rans. Granted, Carr is now back at the helm, and the Raiders halted a four-game losing run a fortnight back to the might of Kansas City.
However, they couldn't back that up (falling 34-15 to Buffalo) last week, and Carr has clearly not returned to rude health yet. Similarly, Carr's crack receiving crew also appears out of sync (regardless of its supplier) although his main artery to WR Michael Crabtree does seem to have been re-established. Although they would've seldom called sub-100-yard games a triumph in 2017.
Despite everything, the Silver and Black only stand one game and a half outside the race for sixth spot in the AFC. Of course, Miami are possibly even more flattered by their 4-3 standing, but their young, improving secondary (headed by some physical, capable corners) could tell for Carr and Crabtree here. And if they can't stop them with a pick or three, they can definitely slow them, and hand control of the game back to Cutler.
The Fins' faithful can do the rest. For the Raiders have been bizarrely prolific inside the red zone this season, registering TDs on 64.7% of their trips inside rivals' 20-yard lines. Such a stat, even at the campaign's half-way mark, is surely an erroneous point when you consider the overall offensive make-up of this faltering raiding party. So expect the home fans to get inside Carr's helmet, and screw with his synapses. Cutler's clear-headedness, on the other hand, should light up the scoreboard on bonfire night.
Back Miami Dolphins (+3) to win on the Match Handicap @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Miami Dolphins(+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Over 23.5 Miami Dolphins Total Points @ 1.9110/11 or better