Well, it was nice while it lasted.
The Miami Dolphins returned to their losing ways on Thanksgiving by falling to the Dallas Cowboys on a field goal as time expired. QB Matt Moore threw for 288 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked four times and lost a key fumble late in the second quarter that set up a Cowboys touchdown just before halftime. The loss snapped a three game win streak, the longest for the team since 2008.
The Oakland Raiders bring their own three game win streak into Miami and sit atop the AFC West. As they try and hold off the surging Denver Broncos, the Raiders will likely continue to lean on RB Michael Bush to carry the offense in place of the injured Darren McFadden. QB Carson Palmer has had up-and-down performances during his four starts in a Raider uniform (I'll graciously ignore his second-half debut against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 23), but gains familiarity with the playbook each week.
Let's take a look at the matchups for this week, plus a bonus section:
Dolphins Pass Offense vs. Raiders Pass Defense
Moore has been steady the past few weeks as he makes his case to be the Dolphins starter next year and perhaps beyond. If he keeps playing the way he has been, the Dolphins may not have the opportunity to draft one of the heralded quarterbacks in this year's draft. Did you know that Moore has a QB Rating of at least 92.6 in four of the past six games? That's good. I still don't think he's the long-term solution, but he has played admirably. Did you also know that the Raiders are tied with the 8th-most interceptions in the league and are 5th in sacks? Yet, they still rank only 19th in the league in pass yards per game, giving up 239.1. Sounds like an aggressive defense, and Moore didn't do too shabby against a similarly aggressive defense in Dallas last week when he found WR Brandon Marshall for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Dolphins Rush Offense vs. Raiders Rush Defense
It looks like RB Reggie Bush has slowed down a bit from his streak of great performances from earlier in the season, and it shouldn't be a surprise. Bush simply isn't an every-down back. Apparently, RB Daniel Thomas isn't, either. There is still time for him, but he needs to shake the injury bug and start producing like he did in Weeks 2 and 3. The Raiders rank last in the NFL, giving up 5.3 yards per carry and 27th in yards per game, giving up 135.3. You would think the Raiders would be better at stopping the run, given their talent. The Dolphins' chance of success running comes down to whether the offensive line decides to block on Sunday or not. Against one of, if not the worst, run defenses in the NFL? I say they get it done.
Raiders Pass Offense vs. Dolphins Pass Defense
QB Carson Palmer has looked better than he has in the past few seasons, but he is still getting accustomed to playing for Oakland. Although the Dolphins' pass defense ranks only 24th in the NFL (248.1 yards per game), they have played markedly better as of late. Last week in Dallas, the Dolphins intercepted QB Tony Romo twice and have done a better job of getting to the quarterback than earlier in the season. Bush isn't much of a threat out of the backfield, but the Raiders have depth at wide receiver and they are all fast. Too fast for the Dolphins to handle, even if the Dolphins do manage a turnover or two.
Raiders Rush Offense vs. Dolphins Rush Defense
Anybody who follows football, or at least owns either Bush or McFadden on their fantasy teams, knows that the Raiders are dangerous on the ground. McFadden remains questionable and has not practiced fully since suffering his foot injury. It looks like he'll miss his fifth straight game. His absence hasn't seemed to matter to Bush, who has carried the ball and average of 24 times per game to the tune of 4.4 yards per carry. Luckily for the Dolphins, they will be able to put up a fight in this matchup. The Dolphins have held opposing rushers to 3.7 yards per carry this season, good for 5th in the NFL and 97.5 yards per game, good for 7th in the NFL. The matchup looks pretty even. So what happens in Florida when something seems too close to call? Bush wins.
Dolphins K Dan Carpenter makes his return this week, but Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski tied an NFL record by kicking six field goals last week against the Chicago Bears and has only missed two this year. He still has that booming leg, connecting on five of six field goal attempts from 50+ yards. Dolphins P Brandon Fields is good, if not great, but Raiders P Shane Lechler has been one of the best in the business for a long time and averages almost three extra yards than Fields in his punts. And Dolphins fans should remember KR Jacoby Ford returning a kick-off for a touchdown last season.
Fantasy Geek Section
Michael Bush is on my team, and has come through for me in my Flex spot while Miles Austin and Jeremy Maclin have been nursing injuries. He's been a steal from the middle rounds and is probably the only reason I'm in the playoff hunt. The only other player in this game that is likely to have a significant impact is Brandon Marshall, who is more talented than whatever cornerback the Raiders will throw his way. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas could have decent games fantasy-wise, and if you're in a pinch, Reggie could be a decent Flex option, since he is likely to get more touches.
The Raiders have a three game winning streak but see the Broncos close in their rearview mirror. The Dolphins lost in heartbreaking fashion last week and saw whatever slim hopes of making the playoffs fly out the window. Momentum favors the Raiders, who easily beat the Dolphins in 2010 by a score of 33-17. The Dolphins have upgraded their offense, but so have the Raiders. It'll be closer, but Raider Nation will get to eight wins this week.
Prediction: Raiders 23, Dolphins 19