NFC South: Oakland Raiders

Join us at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT today for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 12. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) and Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter) discuss a range of topics from the pending decision on Jimmy Graham's franchise tag grievance to Johnny Manziel's latest escapades to Randy Moss getting the coaching bug, among other issues. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions and contribute in the chat feature in the box atop the video player.


Observation deck: Saints-Raiders

August, 16, 2013

The early part of Friday night’s 28-20 victory by the New Orleans Saints over the Oakland Raiders made me flash back four years.

Back in a 2009 preseason game the Saints went out to Oakland and humiliated the Raiders. I ended up writing a post in which I said New Orleans looked like it was heading for the Super Bowl. When the Saints got to the Super Bowl some five months later, some New Orleans fans pointed back to that post and said I was clairvoyant.

The truth was I wrote that tongue in cheek. I was complimenting the Saints, but I also was pointing out that the Raiders looked terrible.

I’m doing the same things now (based mostly on the way the Saints dominated the first half, which is all that matters in a preseason game). But, hey, if the Saints do end up going to the Super Bowl again, you can say you heard it here first.

Some other observations on the Saints:
  • For those worried about the pass rush, relax a bit. The Saints produced five sacks in the first half. You can put some of the blame on the makeshift Oakland offensive line. But the Saints deserve some credit, too. The first-team defense looked very good.
  • Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton sat out with an unspecified injury. Ramon Humber took his place and came up with a tackle for a loss on a running play and a sack. With inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma also missing some time after knee surgery, Humber might have a chance at some playing time in the regular season.
  • One of the more intriguing competitions is for the Saints' third-receiver spot. Rookie Kenny Stills and second-year pro Nick Toon both played well. Toon, who isn’t a prototypical deep threat, caught a 56-yard pass from Drew Brees early in the game. Stills, who does have the tools to be a deep threat, caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
  • Running back Travaris Cadet didn’t help his chances of landing a roster spot as he lost a fumble in the third quarter. Cadet had another third-quarter fumble, but the Saints were able to recover that one.
  • Quarterback Seneca Wallace, who is competing with Luke McCown for the backup job behind Brees, didn’t have a good outing. The Saints turned the ball over three times while Wallace was in the game. McCown appears to have the inside track for the backup job.

Wrap-up: Panthers 17, Raiders 6

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 17-6 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: It’s the third straight win for the Panthers and puts them at 6-9. The Panthers even have a chance to finish outside of last place in the NFC South, which seemed like something they had locked up only a few weeks ago. That’s far too little too late after a disastrous start to the season. But spirits have been raised and the Panthers will head to the offseason with some positives to build on, no matter who is coaching the team or serving as its general manager.

Rivera watch: The winning streak helps coach Ron Rivera’s quest to keep his job tremendously. In fact, Rivera might already have done enough to stay employed. Quarterback Cam Newton has played well the second half of the season and owner Jerry Richardson might be hesitant to change coaching staffs because that might hamper Newton’s development.

Don’t get too excited: Yes, it’s very nice that the Carolina defense held Oakland to two field goals. But let’s keep this in perspective. The Panthers were playing the Raiders, who were using Matt Leinart as their quarterback.

On the plus side: One more thing that has to help Rivera’s cause is that his team was able to protect a fourth-quarter lead. That’s something that was a major problem earlier in the season.

What’s next: The Panthers conclude their season next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Video: Oakland at Carolina predictions

December, 21, 2012

The "Countdown Daily" crew makes its picks for Raiders at Panthers.

Video: Panthers-Raiders preview

December, 20, 2012

Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the Carolina Panthers-Oakland Raiders matchup.

Statistical superlatives on the Saints

November, 19, 2012
With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives from the New Orleans Saints’ 38-17 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:
  • The Saints have won five of their last six games after starting the season 0-4.
  • Drew Brees threw for three touchdown passes and extended his NFL record to 53 straight games with a touchdown pass.
  • Brees now has 50 career games with at least three touchdown passes. That puts him fifth in NFL history. Only Brett Favre (72 games), Peyton Manning (70), Dan Marino (62) and Tom Brady (51) have more games in which they’ve thrown three touchdown passes.
  • Brees, who used to play twice a year against the Raiders in his days with the Chargers, has 16 touchdown passes without an interception in his last seven games against Oakland. In two games against Oakland since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees has completed 46 of 57 passes for 539 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Free safety Malcolm Jenkins had an interception and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. It was Jenkins’ first interception since the 2010 season.
  • The Saints stuck with Travaris Cadet as their kick returner even though he fumbled two weeks ago against Philadelphia. He rewarded them with a 75-yard return against the Raiders.
  • The Raiders put up 404 yards of total offense. That might sound like a lot, but that’s the lowest total the New Orleans defense has allowed this season. Throw in Jenkins’ interception and a goal-line stand and you can start to see coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense making some progress.
  • In the next three weeks, the Saints will play three division leaders – the 49ers, Falcons and Giants. Their next five opponents have a combined record of 32-16-1.

Wrap-up: Saints 38, Raiders 17

November, 18, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:

What it means: After an 0-4 start, the Saints are now 5-5 and that at least puts them on the fringe of the playoff picture. It still is going to take a pretty miraculous finish for the Saints to get into the postseason. But hey, a month ago, their season appeared to be over. At the very least, the Saints are going to remain relevant for the next few weeks. At best, they’ll make the playoffs and be one of the great turnaround stories in recent history.

Breakthrough moment? Since moving from cornerback in his second season, I’ve always thought Malcolm Jenkins had a chance to become one of the league’s top free safeties. He has all the physical skills and the work ethic. But for reasons I could never quite put my finger on, Jenkins hadn’t recorded an interception since 2010. That changed Sunday in a big way. In the first quarter, Jenkins picked off a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Speaking of safeties who haven’t had a lot of interceptions recently, strong safety Roman Harper, who went through the entire 2011 season without an interception, came up with his second interception of the season. Looks like that Steve Spagnuolo defense, in which safeties are supposed to be safeties and not pass-rushers, might be starting to take hold.

Ingram’s not a bust: For the last season and a half, a lot of fans have been claiming that running back Mark Ingram, a first-round pick in 2011, was a bust. I’ve never thought that was the case. I thought he was just the victim of a very crowded backfield. That backfield still is crowded, but Ingram has had a few good games recently and he’s starting to stand out from the crowd. Sunday might have been his best game yet. He carried 12 times for 67 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run.

What’s next: The Saints host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Checking out the experts' picks

November, 15, 2012
I went to check on the ESPN NFL Expert Picks expecting the panel to be unanimous in this week’s games involving NFC South teams.

But it turns out that’s the case in only one game. The panel was unanimous in its choice of the Atlanta Falcons over the Arizona Cardinals. That makes plenty of sense because the Falcons are very tough at the Georgia Dome and the Cardinals are crumbling after a fast start.

But there was a little bit of division among the panelists when it came to the other two NFC South games.

Twelve panel members are picking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Carolina Panthers and I’d make the same prediction. The Bucs suddenly are hot and the Panthers are having a dismal season. But Keyshawn Johnson, who played for both teams, and Adam Schefter picked the Panthers.

Schefter also went against conventional wisdom in picking the Oakland Raiders to defeat the New Orleans Saints. He and Chris Mortensen are the only two panelists picking against the Saints.

Video: Accuscore -- Saints-Raiders

November, 15, 2012

Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the Saints-Raiders.
With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, Elias Sports Bureau and the Tampa Bay media relations staff, it’s time for some statistical superlatives on the Buccaneers 42-32 victory against Oakland on Sunday.
  • Rookie running back Doug Martin rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns. The 251 rushing yards are tied for third-most by a rookie in NFL history. Oh yeah, we should add that Martin had 265 rushing yards before losing 14 yards on three carries on the game’s final drive. Adrian Peterson (296 yards in a 2007 game) and DeMarco Murray (253 yards in a game last year) are the only rookies to rush for more yards in a game than Martin.
  • Martin’s rushing total also set a franchise record (James Wilder’s 219 yards in a 1983 game were the previous record) and his four rushing touchdowns also set a new team standard.
  • Martin became the first player in NFL history with three rushing touchdowns of 45 or more yards in a game.
  • Martin and Mike Anderson (in 2000) are the only players ever to rush for 250 yards and four touchdowns in a game.
  • Martin rushed for 268 yards when the Bucs lined up a lead blocker in the backfield, including 215 yards before first contact. He had -17 yards on six carries on which he didn’t have a lead blocker.
  • All totaled, Martin gained 197 of his yards before contact. That’s the second-most yards before contact over the past four seasons. James Harrison had 235 yards before contact in a 2009 game.
  • Josh Freeman passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He’s only the third quarterback in franchise history to throw for a touchdown pass in each of the first eight games of the season. Brad Johnson in 2003 and Doug Williams in 1979 were the other two.
  • Over the last four games, Freeman has thrown for 11 touchdowns and one interception. I’m sensing a big contract extension after the season.
  • Freeman had a 108.6 NFL passer rating and now has recorded four straight games with a passer rating over 100.
  • Tampa Bay’s 515 yards from scrimmage ranks second on the team’s all-time list. The record is 573 in a 1980 game against Minnesota.
  • The Bucs now have eight plays with 60 yards or more this season. That’s a franchise record and they’ve only played eight games.
  • The victory was the first time the Bucs ever have defeated the Raiders on the road. (They’re now 1-5 when visiting the Raiders).
  • Rookie linebacker Lavonte David continues to excel. He had two tackles for losses to bring his season total to a team-leading 11. He also posted a career-high 16 tackles.

Video: Predictions -- Bucs-Raiders

November, 3, 2012

The NFL Live crew makes their picks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Oakland Raiders.

Video: AccuScore -- Bucs-Raiders

November, 2, 2012

Cary Chow goes inside the numbers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Oakland Raiders game.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 36, Vikings 17

October, 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 36-17 victory against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on Thursday night:

What it means: This was a big step for the Bucs as they continue to build around a lot of young players with a first-year coaching staff. It showed the Bucs can go on the road and beat a team with a winning record. It showed that the Bucs are capable of protecting a lead, something they've had trouble with this year. The Bucs are 3-4 and -- for the moment -- are in sole possession of second place in the NFC South. They’re not going to catch the Atlanta Falcons, but I’ve got a hunch we’re going to see continued improvement from the Bucs in the second half of the season.

Martin’s big night: Early on, a lot of critics were pointing to the fact that rookie running back Doug Martin wasn’t making any big plays. That no longer can be said. Martin had a breakout game. He carried 29 times for 135 yards (including a 41-yard run) and a touchdown. Martin also caught three passes for 79 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. Remember back on draft night, when coach Greg Schiano repeatedly called Martin an all-purpose back and compared him to Ray Rice? Martin certainly served all purposes against the Vikings. We’ll hold off a bit on getting too carried away with the Rice comparisons, but it’s starting to look like Schiano knew what he was talking about.

Stat of the night: Josh Freeman threw three touchdown passes against the Vikings. He now has thrown three touchdowns in three consecutive games. No other quarterback in franchise history has ever done that. Come to think of it, the Bucs never have had a guy that’s gotten firmly established as a franchise quarterback. A few more games like this and I think it will be safe to assume the Bucs will give Freeman a big contract extension in the offseason and lock him up for the long term.

Age really is just a number: Safety Ronde Barber is 37, but he still is making huge plays. He forced two fumbles against the Vikings by stripping the ball and also put some pressure on Christian Ponder with some blitzes. Barber made it sound like this would be his last season when he re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal in the offseason. But I’m starting to think the Bucs would be very interested in bringing Barber back for one more year -- at least.

Bowers makes debut: The Bucs activated defensive end Da'Quan Bowers off the physically unable to perform list a few hours before the game. Bowers, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in May, was used as a situational pass-rusher. But he did record a sack on a play in which Ponder had to fall on a bad snap out of the shotgun formation.

The streak is over: The Bucs had lost nine consecutive road games dating back to last year. That streak is officially over. Coincidentally, the last road game the Bucs won was in Minnesota early last season.

What I liked: The Bucs have continued to get fullback Erik Lorig involved in the passing game. That’s a good thing because it brings diversity to the offense. Lorig got his first career touchdown catch in the first quarter. Lorig now has eight catches for 51 yards so far this season, after having only seven catches for 63 yards in the previous two seasons combined.

What I didn’t like: Left tackle Donald Penn got into an encounter that involved pushing, shoving and jawing with Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen late in the third quarter. Not sure that it’s a great idea to fire up Allen.

What’s next: The Buccaneers play at Oakland on Nov. 4.

Superlatives on the Falcons

October, 15, 2012
ATLANTA -- With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Falcons’ media relations department, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives from Atlanta’s 23-20 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:

  • Quarterback Matt Ryan now has led game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in each of his past three games. Since his 2008 rookie season, Ryan leads the NFL with 19 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s three more game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime than any player in his first five seasons since 1966. Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer are tied for second with 16.
  • This is more of a lowlight than a highlight, but Ryan had only the second three-interception game of his career. He has six interceptions in his last four games.
  • Ryan is now 9-1 at home against AFC teams. His lone loss came against Denver in 2008.
  • Ryan and Roddy White connected on their 38th receiving touchdown. That’s the most by any quarterback-receiver due since 2008.
  • Ryan was 12-of-22 with all three of his interceptions on throws of more than 5 yards downfield. Ryan had completed 70.2 percent of such passes with seven touchdowns and two interceptions in his first five games.
  • Ryan now has thrown for at least one touchdown in 21 straight games. That’s the third-best active streak in the NFL behind Drew Brees (48) and Tom Brady (38).
  • The Falcons are off to the first 6-0 start in franchise history. They have seven consecutive wins, dating back to last season.
  • Atlanta coach Mike Smith now has won 49 games, which ties him with Dan Reeves for the franchise record. But Smith is 49-21 (.700) while Reeves was 49-59-1 (.454).
  • Kicker Matt Bryant hit a 55-yard field goal to win the game. It was the 14th game-winning field goal of his career and fifth as a member of the Falcons.
  • Bryant has made eight field goals of 50-plus yards in his career. His teams are 7-1 when he has made a field goal of more than 50 yards.
  • Cornerback Asante Samuel had his first interception since joining the Falcons and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. Samuel’s 46 career interceptions rank No. 4 among active players and his 10 interception returns for touchdowns in the regular season rank No. 5 in NFL history.
  • Defensive end John Abraham had three sacks on Sunday. That gives him six sacks for the season. His career 118.0 sacks are tops among active players.
  • The Falcons have swept AFC West opponents this season. The Falcons average 29.3 points while allowing 17 points a game against the AFC West. They also were +10 in turnover differential against the AFC West.

Falcons not where they want to be yet

October, 14, 2012
Matt Bryant AP Photo/John BazemoreThe Falcons needed a 55-yard field goal from Matt Bryant in the closing seconds to stay unbeaten.
ATLANTA -- In a Georgia Dome stairwell, the chant echoed and kept getting louder as more fans got on the steps.

"6-0, 6-0, 6-0," more than a few dozen fans yelled repeatedly after the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Oakland Raiders 23-20 on Sunday.

A long-suffering bunch, Atlanta fans have every right to be giddy about a 6-0 start. The Falcons have never been there before. Heck, they never have been any better than 4-0 until this season.

But let’s not get too carried away just because the Falcons are in uncharted territory. There’s still plenty of territory they haven’t entered yet.

In coach Mike Smith’s postgame news conference, there was a question about how the Falcons should handle potential talk about how they’re the best team in football as they head into their bye week.

Smith chuckled at the question.

"They'll watch the tape and they'll realize that we've got a lot of work to do," said Smith, who got his 49th career victory to tie Dan Reeves for the most wins in franchise history. "I can assure you that. They don't need to have myself or any of the coaches in there watching it. They're off during the bye week, but they will be in there watching tape. That’s the way we do things. That's a great locker room and they realize that we haven’t played the best football that we're capable of playing."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireFalcons QB Matt Ryan had a subpar game, but he came through when it counted on the final drive.
Despite their lofty record, the Falcons definitely aren't the best team in the NFL. They're not even the best team in the NFC at the moment. I’m not sure which team is the best in the NFL or the NFC, but it's not the Falcons. At least not yet.

The game against Oakland was firm proof of that. Throw in the previous two games, against Washington and Carolina, and we haven't seen the Falcons play a real good game since Week 3 at San Diego.

They're just getting by and Sunday was the closest escape yet. The Falcons needed a 55-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with one second remaining to get a home win against what is one of the worst teams in the league.

For the third straight week, the Falcons were sloppy in a lot of areas, and no one was sloppier than quarterback Matt Ryan. He’s been mentioned in MVP conversations, but any more games like Sunday will put a stop to that.

Ryan was intercepted three times in the first half. But Ryan, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown, did what he had to do when it mattered most. For the third straight week, he led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

This one began with the game tied (20-20) and the Falcons getting the ball at their own 20-yard line with 40 seconds remaining. Ryan worked the sideline perfectly, completing five of six passes to get the Falcons within Bryant's range.

"We need to strive to play our best," said Ryan, who entered the game with only three interceptions on the season. "I don’t think we've done that the last couple weeks. It's going to be critical for us to use this week to find ways to improve."

The Falcons aren't the best team in the league right now, but that doesn't mean they can't get there. By skill and by luck, they're the only undefeated team in the NFC and they’re running away with the NFC South.

The Falcons know they have to get better if they want to keep winning and go deep into the playoffs. There are issues on offense and defense that have to be patched up.

"We've definitely got something special on this defense," veteran cornerback Asante Samuel said. "We're going to put it all together by the end."

Like Ryan, Samuel and the defense experienced highs and lows against the Raiders. Samuel seemingly won the game when he intercepted Carson Palmer and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown with 2:40 remaining.

But, largely with help from Samuel losing Derek Hagan on a 38-yard pass play, the Raiders moved right down the field to tie the game with a touchdown.

"I think we can improve so much," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "We're not where we want to be as a defense. We want to be perfect."

The Falcons aren't where they want to be as an offense or a defense, but that’s not a bad thing with a week off coming to correct flaws and get some rest.

"It's good that we've got some time off because we have a long list of guys that are banged up right now," Smith said.

The week off may help the Falcons get defensive tackle Corey Peters, who has been on the physically unable to perform list, back on the field. That should help a defense that allowed the Raiders to rush for 149 yards. The time off also should help linebacker Stephen Nicholas get healthy. Nicholas came into the game dealing with an ankle injury and played only sparingly after aggravating it or realizing he wasn’t fully ready.

The Falcons allowed 474 yards, but there were bright spots, like John Abraham's three sacks and Samuel's interception.

"We need to use this week to make sure we get better ourselves," safety Thomas DeCoud said.

That applies to offense, defense and special teams because the 6-0 record might be a wonderful thing, but it's also a bull's-eye on their back.

"The thing now is we know we're going to get everyone's best shot," Robinson said. “We've got to take our game to another level."

If the Falcons can take their game to another level and start putting together complete games, then the chants and talk of them being the best team in the NFL could be justified.

But the Falcons aren’t there -- yet.