Bills have tough task vs. Raiders
Teenage Bills fans have no recollection of the last time Buffalo made the NFL playoffs.
Many of their elders, however, might not remember the last time the Bills won a game in Oakland, back when they were battling for position in the 1966 AFL playoffs.
"Fifty years ago? Phew," Bills coach Rex Ryan said this week. "That's amazing. Woof. You talk about a drought."
If the Bills can end one drought Sunday at Oakland's Alameda Coliseum, it could go a long way toward helping them put the other one in the past.
That won't be an easy task against a resurgent Raiders (9-2) team that is off to its best start since 2000 and tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the AFC. Oakland is poised to end its own 13-season playoff drought, which is tied with Cleveland for the second-longest in the NFL behind Buffalo (16 seasons).
The Bills (6-5) enter December with a winning record for the second time in three years, but just the third time since 1999, their last playoff season. They are currently ninth in the conference standings and one game back of the final Wild Card spot.
Buffalo has not won a road game in December while still in playoff contention since 2004. The Bills were 8-6 when they traveled to Oakland two years ago and were knocked out of playoff contention with a 26-24 loss to the 2-12 Raiders.
While the Bills have struggled to take the next step since, the Raiders have risen to become one of the top teams in the league. Oakland has won five in a row and leads the competitive AFC West division by one game over Kansas City. The Raiders have already won two more games than they did last season.
"We're stacking up wins right now and we need to continue to do that," Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said.
Third-year quarterback Derek Carr has led five fourth quarter comebacks, most recently in last week's 35-32 victory over the Carolina Panthers after dislocating his the pinkie finger in his throwing hand.
Carr wore a glove on his right hand during practice Wednesday but said he will have "no limitations' for Sunday's game.
"My hand's doing great," Carr said with a smile. "Thank you for asking."
Defensive tackle Stacy McGee (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and running back Latavius Murray (ankle) was limited.
Carr has been touted as an MVP contender, but he may not be the only Raider in the discussion. Defensive counterpart Khalil Mack last week became the first player to record a sack, interception return for a touchdown, forced fumble and fumble recovery in the same game. Over his last eight games, Mack has nine sacks, 10 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"Talk all about him. I'm good with that," Carr said. "I'm good with doing my job and going home to my kids and my wife. Talk to him. He doesn't have any kids or a wife yet. Give him all the praise."
Ryan ranked Mack among the two best defensive players in the NFL, along with Denver's Von Miller, MVP of Super Bowl 50.
"Some guys are speed guys, but some don't play with power. Some guys are just power guys. But this guy can do it all," Ryan said. "He can truck you, he can run around you, he's got moves, he's creative with his pass rush. ... It's pretty much a nightmare."
Buffalo has won two in a row following a three-game losing streak. The Bills have been depleted by injuries and suspensions throughout the season, but are starting to get key players back healthy.
Top wideout Sammy Watkins returned from injured reserve to catch three passes for 80 yards and draw a key pass interference penalty in last week's 28-21 win over Jacksonville. But Watkins did not practice Wednesday due to lingering soreness in his foot following offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture.
Other starters sitting out practice were cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion), wide receiver Robert Woods (knee), tight end Charles Clay (knee), left tackle Cordy Glenn (back). Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (abdomen) was limited and quarterback Tyrod Taylor (groin) was listed on the injury report but participated fully.