By Simon Milham, a www.tradesports.com columnist.
Is it time to kiss goodbye to the play-off chances of the Oakland Raiders following their three-game losing streak?
With Denver and New England to follow after Sunday.s clash with the San Francisco 49ers, some would argue a very good case. But that isn.t going to happen just yet.
Oakland dropped a 20-10 decision in Kansas City last weekend to leave them at 4-3 for the year, while the 49ers coasted to a 38-28 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals to go 5-2 and take a two-game lead at the top of the NFC West division. They led 31-7 at halftime.
Whichever way the game goes, purists who like grind-it-out football best give the clash a miss, for this looks like it is going to be another aerial duel between Rich Gannon and Matt Garcia, with wideouts Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens looking to put up big numbers.
The 49ers have had it easy so far, facing only two sides with a winning record . and they lost them both, at home to the Denver Broncos and on the road in New Orleans. On bare form, they are a decent side, but short of top class. In effect, overrated.
Oakland has slumped from a 4-0 start and are in a tailspin, having dropped games in St Louis and Kansas, while losing a crunch AFC West clash two weeks ago at home to San Diego. Their schedule looks daunting from here and Bill Callahan will see this as a must-win game after two crushing divisional defeats.
There is a case that some may have folded the tent already, but tell that to veterans Rice and Bill Romanowski, who would love to cream their old colleagues one last time. The Raiders struggled to stop the run and Priest Holmes took advantage with 184 yards in total. Had defensive lineman Sam Adams played, it might have been a different ballgame. However, he sat it out with a twisted knee and cornerback Charles Woodson also missed the game with a cracked shoulder.
The good news for Callahan is that Gannon.s arm does not yet appeared to have dropped off completely. He passed for 334 yards on 35 of 55 passes and became the third quarterback in NFL history to surpass the 300-yard mark in six straight games, along with Kurt Warner and Steve Young.
The San Francisco secondary is solid enough and this young unit is looking better with each game. Defensive co-ordinator Jim Mora has done an excellent job with raw talent and moulded the defense into a unit to be feared.
The two corners Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster have looked very effective, but where the Raiders may have success is in the four and five receiver sets. The 49ers need to work on the nickel defense by jamming some of the larger Oakland receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Pass rush needed to be improved from last year and to a degree, that has been achieved, though they must get better pressure on Gannon to achieve results.
There is no doubt the Raiders have the offensive arsenal to damage the 49ers, they are the NFL.s top-ranked offense. It should be fascinating to see how the ball-hawking 49ers, who have giveaway/takeaway ratio of plus-10 . second in the NFL . cope with Rice, Tim Brown and company. Had it not been for turnovers, the 49ers would not rank as high as 21st place in the NFL in team defense. Oakland ranks 17th in defense and they go up against the 12th-ranked offense. The Raiders have averaged 28.0 points per game and the 49ers are still above the league.s average with a 20.3 points average.
Injuries trouble both teams and 49ers running back Garrison Hearst is scheduled as day-to-day. He has a hamstring injury. Raiders. back Tyrone Wheatley is also a doubt for Sunday with a similar problem.
The Raiders are selected to bounce back and should cover the spread in what promises to be an epic encounter. Simon Milham is a columnist with www.tradesports.com. TradeSports is a person-to-person sports trading exchange where members wager together without a bookie. This means that odds are set by members and are often superior to bookie odds. TradeSports offers all new members a choice of sign up bonuses. E.g. open an a/c with $250 or more and we will give you a $50 bonus (mention .SM2.) Normal T&C.s apply.