OAKLAND, Calif. – If change is truly the one constant in the modern NFL, the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders just might be the epitome of it.
Less than 14 months after their last meeting, the longtime AFC rivals have each undergone their own kind of overhaul heading into Sunday's meeting in Oakland.
The Raiders (3-8) have revamped their entire organization since that contest last October in the first home game since the death of longtime owner and architect Al Davis. From the front office to the coaching staff to the on-field product, little is the same other than the familiar silver and black uniforms these days in Oakland.
While the bulk of the Raiders changes went on during last offseason, the Browns (3-8) have been doing it on the fly this season after being bought by Jimmy Haslam for $1.05 billion in a deal that was finalized in October.
Haslam hired Joe Banner to be the CEO and president Mike Holmgren officially stepped down earlier this week. More moves are expected in the offseason, leaving the status of general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur in question.
"Change happens in the NFL," Shurmur said. "We know that. We're all accustomed to seeing it happen in some form or another. I would say this is a little bit unique in terms of having it happen in the middle of the season. ... Just like anything when things change, I'm sure they are going to make some decisions here at the end of the season but we as coaches don't worry about that. We're trying to put all our efforts into winning the next game, playing the next opponent."
That opponent looks far different than the one Cleveland lost to 24-17 last October eight days after Davis' death. Starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone in the first half that game, setting off a chain of events that still impact the team today.
Former coach Hue Jackson traded two high draft picks two days later to Cincinnati to acquire Carson Palmer to keep Oakland on a playoff path. Instead, the Raiders faltered down the stretch and fell one game short of the AFC West title.
Owner Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie as general manager after the season and Jackson was fired. McKenzie hired Dennis Allen as coach and has overturned almost half of the roster. The Raiders are assured of their 10th straight non-winning season and already looking ahead to what they hope will be a brighter future.
"You realize where the record is right now. Some of the goals and aspirations we had earlier in the year may not be, they're not as realistic as they once were," Allen said. "So the focus now has to be more on, let's restart. Let's start this thing over, it's 0-0 and let's see where we can go from here. And that's what we're going to try to do."
The Browns also look different on the field, especially offensively, where three of their most productive skill players are all rookies in quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and receiver Josh Gordon.
After an 0-5 start to the season, Cleveland has won three of its last six games, including last week's 20-14 victory over AFC North rival Pittsburgh.
After a rough start to his career, Weeden has made strides in recent weeks with seven touchdown passes and only four interceptions the past six games. Richardson has been the physical back the Browns expected when they traded up to select him third in April's draft, averaging more than 100 yards rushing per game the last four weeks.
Even the losses during this recent stretch have been close, a sign that the Browns are improving in Shurmur's second season as coach.
"I think it's been well-documented that we haven't finished a ton of games," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "Last week it let everyone know if we stay in tune to what we're doing, stay in tune to every snap, we can win some ballgames and finish ballgames from a defensive standpoint."
The Raiders have been unable to start or finish games of late, losing four straight for the first time since 2008 and getting outscored by 90 points during the skid.
The biggest issues have been on defense where the Raiders are allowing the second most points per game in the NFL since the merger in 1970 and have given up 169 points the past four weeks.
"We have the players and the ability to get it done," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "It's just unfortunate that we haven't played sound football across the board, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. We haven't played complementary football. We just need to put it all together as a team. That's something to build upon."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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