Beating the dysfunctional Giants is one thing. Beating the punchless Jets, another.
But stealing a victory Sunday in Miami is how the Raiders can prove they’re really in AFC playoff contention.
The Raiders are stepping up in class as 13.5-point underdogs against the Dolphins and the NFL’s most explosive offense: first in yards (435.3 per game), first in scoring (31.7), faster on the perimeter than Formula One.
Absent from the remainder of their schedule are matchups against the class of competition they’ve won against.
The combined record of the opponents they’ve beaten: 15-32. Their average scoring output: 18.2 points.
“Obviously, we are going to have to play our best football,” interim coach Antonio Pierce said. “But this is an extreme challenge for our team, and we’re looking forward to it.”
More to learn
The soft scheduling that started Pierce’s tenure allowed the Raiders to build confidence and form their newfound identity. They, like their new leader, are tough, resilient and physical — defined through two games by the rugged defense and rushing offense that eluded them previously.
Their belief in Pierce fills the Intermountain Health Performance Center like the wafts of smoke the past two weeks that filled their victorious locker room.
What they can control is the way they compete. They can’t control who’s on their schedule.
But the Giants — inept on both sides of the ball — were tailor-made for a trouncing, and the Jets, though a step up with their well schooled defense, mirror the Giants offensively.
Miami, leading the AFC East, can properly measure the improvements the Raiders have made.
Can the defense that allowed a combined 18 points the past two weeks disrupt Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and company? Can defensive coordinator Patrick Graham — improving the 26th-ranked scoring defense (24.6) to 13th this season (20.5) — manage to slow on occasion Miami coach Mike McDaniel’s dynamic offensive scheme?
Conversely on offense, can the Raiders continue to run the ball as effectively as they have the past two weeks to keep Miami’s offense sidelined? Will they exceed 2o points offensively for the second time this season? Even if they do, will that be enough?
Are they capable against the 26th-ranked scoring defense (25) of scoring 30 should they be required?
“What we did last week is not necessarily going to work on paper against these guys. If our defense goes out and handles their business and we keep coming off the field, that doesn’t make it easy,” Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams said. “We want to start fast and obviously put ourselves in a position where we’re not making our defense have to go out there and make stops every single time.
“We obviously believe that they can, but the idea is to make it as easy on them as possible.”
Sink or swim
After the Dolphins await the rival Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions who again sit atop the AFC. If the Raiders aren’t at least competitive with the Dolphins, then it’s hard imagining them a viable postseason contender.
They’re ninth in the AFC. Games against the Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts and Broncos follow.
Not that they’re thinking about any other opponent.
“I think last week it was good to see us go through adversity,” Pierce said. “But this is a really good football team — just think about their losses. Two of them were to the two teams that played in the Super Bowl. So, they’re right there with the elite teams, and it’ll be a good challenge for us in every aspect of the game to see how we match up against teams like that.”
Sink or swim in South Beach.