THE CRYSTAL BALL

The Dolphins and Raiders produced one of the best games of the 2001 season when they met at Pro Player Stadium last September. Don't be surprised if another fantastic finish is in the cards Sunday afternoon. Here's how we think the game will unfold.

This clearly looks like the game of the week in the NFL, and the matchups features a couple of great battles.

One of the Raiders offense, ranked first in the NFL, against the Dolphins' second-ranked defense.

The other is the Dolphins' third-ranked rushing offense, led by NFL rushing leader Ricky Williams, against the third-ranked rushing defense.

Those two matchups figure to decide the outcome.

Let's look at the first matchup first.

There is reason to feel good about the Dolphins' chances of stopping the Raiders' pass-oriented offense, and that reason is the style of defense the Dolphins play.

Oakland has thrived all season with a quick passing game that takes advantage of defenses that play soft coverage against the Raiders receivers.

That is not what the Dolphins do. The Dolphins play press coverage, and they will not let Jerry Rice and Tim Brown catch 2- and 3-yard passes all game long.

The Dolphins held Rich Gannon to 125 yards passing in last year's game, so they obviously have an idea how to stop the Raiders.

Expecting that kind of success again is unrealistic, but there's also no reason to believe the Oakland offense will light up the scoreboard.

On to the second big matchup, Williams is coming off back-to-back 200-yard games, but that was against Buffalo and Chicago.

The yards will be much tougher to come by against the Raiders. But Williams also gained 102 yards against a very good Baltimore defense and 143 yards against a good San Diego run defense.

The Dolphins offensive line has played very well since Mark Dixon returned to the starting lineup, so we're looking for moderate success here for Williams, somewhere in the neighborhood of 115-120 yards.

The Dolphins should have the opportunity to make plays in the passing game because of injuries in the Oakland secondary, so this would be a good time for a reappearance by Chris Chambers.

Jay Fiedler obviously will need to make some plays in the passing game and avoid costly turnovers, such as the interception that was returned for a touchdown in last year's matchup.

The Dolphins appear to have a clear edge in the special teams, and that also could make a difference.

This will not be an easy game, because Oakland is playing really well right now. But the Dolphins are always tough at home, and this game will be no different.

It could actually come down to another wild finish because this will be a close game.

The call: Dolphins 20, Raiders 17.


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