Raiders look to take advantage of Dolphins
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When the Oakland Raiders (3-5) and the Miami Dolphins (4-3) meet on Sunday night, there will be two desperate teams at Hard Rock Stadium.
Both the Raiders and Dolphins were playoff teams last season as AFC wild cards, but a return to the postseason is not looking likely.
Miami's season of turmoil continued on Tuesday when the Dolphins traded star running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round pick.
Ajayi made the Pro Bowl last season, rushing for 1,272 yards. The 24-year-old had three games in which he rushed for more than 200 yards.
But his average per rush has gone from 4.9 last season to 3.4 this year, and coach Adam Gase had been critical of Ajayi -- without mentioning his name -- before the trade was made.
"We need to get the four or five yards we're going to get and stop trying to hit home runs," Gase said.
Ajayi had also been left home for the 2016 opener at the Seattle Seahawks for what Gase viewed as an immature reaction to not being named the starter. In addition, Ajayi and the rest of the Miami running backs were criticized within the past week for not knowing their pass-blocking assignments.
Numerous media reports have surfaced that a bad attitude and bad knees also factored into the Dolphins dumping Ajayi.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have lost five of their past six games, including a 34-14 blowout defeat at the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. FPI gives the Raiders just a four percent shot to make the playoffs, which ranks 13th in the AFC. And ESPN's latest power ranking places them 21st in the NFL.
"Halfway mark, we're 3-5. That's not what we were looking for. but it's what we've earned to this point," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "We need to get hot in the second half."
Oakland will get running back Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch back from a one-game suspension for coming off the bench and shoving an official against the Kansas City Chiefs.
But the Raiders may once again be without two starters in the secondary: safety Karl Joseph (groin) and cornerback David Anderson (foot). Both are questionable.
Despite Oakland's issues, the Dolphins could be playing even worse at the moment as evidenced by the fact that they will be 2 1/2-point home underdogs on Sunday.
That underdog status is tied in part to Miami's 40-0 blowout loss last week at the Baltimore Ravens. That was the worst margin of defeat for the Dolphins in 18 years.
ESPN has Miami 25th in its power rankings, making the Dolphins the worst four-win team in the NFL. The seven teams ranked below Miami have all won three games or less, and the Dolphins have been outscored by a combined 60 points this year.
In addition, the Dolphins' offense ranks last in the NFL in points (13.1) and yards per game (252). The Dolphins are on pace to score 209 points, which would be the lowest in the franchise's 52-year history, not counting strike seasons.
"I'm tired of this offense being awful," Gase said. "We're the worst offense in football. It's hard to get lower than that."
Miami's offensive could get a boost on Sunday from the expected return of quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle).
Guard Ted Larsen (biceps), who has yet to play this season, is nearing a return but is questionable for the Raiders.
Parker leads Miami with 59 receiving yards per game and also with receptions on 67.8 percent of his targets. He is a deep threat who can elevate over defensive backs.
Cutler is 4-2 as a starter this season, but most of the home fans seem to hate him. They chanted for his backup, Matt Moore ... at least until the second-stringer got routed by Baltimore last week.
The Raiders, who went 12-4 last season to earn their first playoff berth since 2002, have been just as big a disappointment as Miami.
Keeping quarterback Derek Carr healthy is a priority for Oakland. He broke his ankle in the 16th week last season, sinking Oakland's title hopes.
This year, the Raiders are 3-3 in games in which Carr did not go down or stay down due to injury.
Carr has three good targets in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and tight end Jared Cook.
But Cooper is the key. The third-year pro is looking for his third Pro Bowl berth and his third 1,000-yard season, and Sunday night against the Dolphins will be in prime time and in front of his hometown fans.
Cooper played his high school ball at Miami Northwestern.