Published October 14, 2011
| Sports Network
Maybe there���s something to this destiny thing after all.
Just hours after the death of their franchise icon last week, the Oakland Raiders staved off a spirited push on the final play of the game as their foes got within a few yards of a come-from-behind victory.
And somewhere in the skies above Houston, Al Davis smiled.
Emotions are sure to return this weekend as the Raiders play their first home game since the long-time executive died on Oct. 8 at age 82, ending a nearly 50-year association with the team in which he served as head coach, general manager and owner and established its signature "Commitment to Excellence" phrase.
And playing the role of visitor in a potential tear-jerker -- the Cleveland Browns, who head to the Oakland Coliseum for Sunday's Week 6 clash.
Safety Michael Huff sealed Oakland's 25-20 win over the Houston Texans last Sunday with an end-zone interception, prompting a post-game speech from head coach Hue Jackson in which he gave Davis a posthumous playmaking credit.
"That was a helluva job by you Michael Huff," Jackson said. "But I tell you this -- Al Davis had his hand on that ball."
But don't expect the Raiders to use Davis as a motivation going forward.
"That's not what he was about," Jackson said. "Don't use a rallying cry over him. Do your job. Do your job and perform, because that's what he pays you to do, to be the best you can be. It was never about one person."
The win lifted Oakland a game above .500 after five weeks, the first time they've been above break-even this late in a season since 2002 -- the year they last reached the Super Bowl.
Both Jackson and Davis expected big things from the 2011 team, especially after Oakland went 8-8 last season and won all six of its games in the AFC West.
"Why not us?," Jackson said. "I said that way back in training camp and I'm not going to quit saying it.
"I mean, who knows what is going to happen over the next several weeks of the season, but why not the Raiders? Why can we not win it if we continue to grow and keep working at this thing?"
The Browns have been up and down through four weeks, dropping their opener and winning two straight before an 31-13 home loss to Tennessee preceded a Week 5 bye.
The break from on-field play yielded a fair amount of off-field drama, in which defensive end Marcus Benard broke a hand in a motorcycle accident and running back Peyton Hillis divulged that his agent encouraged him to sit out a Week 3 win over Miami with strep throat.
Hillis, who���s on the last year of his contract, reneged the story Tuesday.
"It was my decision," he said. "It was something that hindered me, my sickness. I lost a lot of weight and I was throwing up. I had strep throat and I was very weak, and when I came in to the stadium early that morning, I got looked at by the doctors and the training staff and decided that it was best for me if I didn't play. I have no reason to lie about that.
"I just think if you really want to create a stir, you would, and that's not what kind of guy I am."
The Browns have won their next game after the bye in three of the last four seasons.
Though Oakland has a 10-8 lead in the all-time regular season series between these teams, the Browns have won four of the last five meetings. Cleveland's lone loss during that stretch did occur at the Coliseum, however, a 26-24 setback in 2007. The Browns did best the Raiders in Oakland in both 2005 (9-7) and 2006 (24-21), and came through with a 23-9 victory in Cleveland during the 2009 season as well.
The Raiders have never lost to Cleveland in two previous postseason matchups, posting a 14-12 road decision in a 1980 AFC Divisional Playoff and a 27-10 verdict at home in the First Round of the 1982 AFC Playoffs.
Both Jackson and Cleveland's Pat Shurmur will be facing one another, as well as their counterpart's respective team, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy had a career-best 350 yards in the Tennessee loss and set a franchise record for both completions (40) and attempts (61). He completed passes to 11 receivers in that contest as well. In his past two outings on the road, McCoy has three touchdown passes and a 112.8 quarterback rating. Hillis enters the game needing six catches to reach 100 for his career, while tight end Benjamin Watson registered his 25th career touchdown catch against the Titans and needs 64 receiving yards to reach 1,000 with the Browns. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi had a touchdown catch in Cleveland's 2009 meeting with the Raiders, while rookie wideout Greg Little -- a second-round pick in last April's draft -- had a career best in catches (six) and receiving yards (57) in Week 4. Wide receiver/return specialist Joshua Cribbs registered a 99-yard kick return touchdown against the Raiders in 2007 and averages 28.4 yards per runback, third-best in the AFC.
The Oakland defense ranks second in the AFC with 14 sacks, and defensive tackle Richard Seymour tied a career high with two sacks last week. He needs one to surpass his season-best total of 5 1/2 set last season. Defensive end LaMarr Houston recorded his first career interception last week, while Huff's decisive pick against the Texans was his first of the season. Rolando McClain, who's been hobbled this week with an ankle injury, leads the linebacking corps with 34 tackles and a sack on the season.
Cleveland's offense is 26th in the league in scoring (18.5 ppg), 21st in total yards (321.0 ypg), 17th in passing yards (235.2 ypg) and 27th in rushing yards (85.8 ypg). On defense, the Raiders are 28th in points allowed (26.6 ppg), 31st in total yards surrendered (422.4 ypg), 29th against the pass (299.6 ypg) and 22nd versus the run (122.8 ypg).
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 104.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter this season, and is 1-0 against the Browns as a starter. The Raiders have an NFL-best nine rushing touchdowns this season and average 178.8 yards per game on the ground in 2011, the second-most in the NFL. Running back Darren McFadden is averaging 123 rushing yards in two home games this season and is tied with Buffalo's Fred Jackson for first in the NFL with seven rushes of 20-plus yards this season. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is averaging 107 receiving yards per game in his past two matchups, while counterpart Chaz Schilens had a game-winning 18-yard touchdown catch last week. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit on three field goals of 50-plus yards (54, 55, 50) against the Texans, tying an NFL-record for most made kicks of at least 50 yards in a single game.
For the Browns, linebacker D���Qwell Jackson leads the team with 40 tackles and safety Mike Adams aims for a third straight game with an interception. Cornerback Joe Haden is tied for the NFL lead with eight passes defensed, but is questionable to play on Sunday due to a knee injury. Defensive end Jayme Mitchell leads the front line with 14 tackles and has 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble as well.
Oakland's offense is eighth in scoring (27.2 ppg), ninth in total yards (381.6 ypg), 22nd in passing yards (219.8 ypg) and second in rushing yards (161.8 ypg). Cleveland's defense is 13th in points allowed (23.2 ppg), ninth in total yards allowed (320.0 ypg), fourth in pass defense (195.5 ypg) and 25th against the rush (124.5 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
McFadden figures to be a major factor for the Raiders, who've been successful running the ball and will be encountering a foe that's been somewhat less successful in stopping it.
Oakland's defense isn't statistically sound, but it's created significant pressure up front, which could be enough to rattle a still-young quarterback in McCoy, whose running game hasn't been a support thus far.
Just how much push a road-weary Raiders team gets from its home fans -- and the emotion of the loss of Davis -- could determine how dominant they might be. If the atmosphere is electric, it's trouble for the Browns.
Though their defense hasn't been quite as celebrated, the Raiders are employing some of the ground-and-pound tactics oft-identified with the New York Jets -- their Week 3 victims. McFadden should be a major factor unless the Browns break script and are able to keep the run game in check. Don't bet on it.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 20, Browns 13