Raiders-Falcons preview

For the second time in three weeks, the Oakland Raiders have to opportunity to be a player in the postseason race without being actively involved.

Two weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders knocked the Denver Broncos out of a first place tie in the AFC West with a 25-24 win. Denver now trails San Diego by two games in the division race. The Atlanta Falcons, who host the Raiders (4-8) Sunday, have a four game lead at 9-3 in the NFC South with four games to play. Tampa Bay, however, delayed the Falcons clinching of the title with a 27-0 win over Atlanta.

The Falcons still could be division champs at the end of the day if both Tampa Bay and Carolina lose. Both teams are 5-7 with Carolina hosting St. Louis (6-6) and Tampa Bay visiting San Diego (9-3).

Oakland, nonetheless, can delay Atlanta clinching the division even further even though it's pretty much a formality.

Here's a closer look:

Raiders on offense: The first thing the Raiders need Sunday is for quarterback Kerry Collins continue to take care of the ball. After a difficult start, Collins has been a huge bright spot. Collins has throw nine touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last three games.

Two things, however, could be very problematic. For starters, wide receiver Ronald Curry has been lost with the season with an Achilles tendon injury. Secondly, Oakland's running game has been the least productive among the 32 NFL teams. The Raiders ran the ball just 10 times in a 34-27 loss to Kansas City but three were Collins scrambles. That's not a good sign going up against a mediocre but improved Falcon defense that includes defensive tackle Rod Coleman, a former Raider who has 8.5 sacks.

Falcons on offense: This is the side of the ball where Atlanta can pose huge problems for the Raiders defense. With quarterback Michael Vick and running back Warrick Dunn, the Falcons have fashioned the NFL's top-rated running attack.

The Raiders have permitted opposing quarterbacks to compile a passer rating a 102.8 as the pass rush has been AWOL throughout the season. Oakland's defense was able to contain Denver's offense two weeks ago in the snow but it will have a tougher time doing such against the Falcons in a domed stadium.

Special teams: Joe Avezzano was hired to fix the Raiders special teams. The coverage units have been somewhat better but not enormously so.

Bottom line: The Raiders offense could have some success as the Falcons defense has been improved but somewhat checkered. Oakland's defense, however, could be in for a tough day.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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