Published November 20, 2014
It's all about draft position, not playoff position when a pair of 3-8 teams, the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, square off in the Bay Area this Sunday.
It's been a decade now since the Raiders finished with a winning record and nothing has changed this time around under rookie head coach Dennis Allen.
Oakland, which will be kicking off a three-game homestand against a Browns team aiming to avoid its franchise-record 13th straight road loss, has dropped four straight overall after getting trounced in Carson Palmer's return to Cincinnati last Sunday.
Palmer's successor in Cincy, Andy Dalton, threw three touchdown passes and grossly outperformed the Southern Cal product in the Bengals' 34-10 win over Oakland.
"Not a lot went right, from start to finish," Palmer said.
Palmer, a seven-year Bengal, was booed vehemently on Oakland's first offensive possession. He finished 19-of-34 for 146 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Raiders, who have dropped four consecutive contests for the first time since 2008 and have lost three straight by 21 or more points for the first time in franchise history.
Palmer was a two-time Pro Bowler with Cincinnati after being the No. 1 overall selection by the Bengals in 2003 after winning the Heisman at USC. He eventually helped what was a moribund franchise to a pair of division titles in 2005 and 2009.
"You can't block things like that out," Palmer said of the booing. "But I prepared myself for that."
Cleveland, which is on its way to a fifth straight losing season, finally got the best of AFC North rival Pittsburgh last Sunday when Steelers emergency starter Charlie Batch threw three interceptions and Pittsburgh turned the ball over eight times in all during an ugly 20-14 road loss to the Browns.
Rookie Trent Richardson had 112 yards from scrimmage and rushed for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter to help the Browns record just their third victory in 25 matchups with the Steelers.
The Cleveland defense turned out to be the biggest stars of that game, recovering five fumbles -- including one each by four different Pittsburgh running backs -- in addition to its three picks of Batch. Overall the Browns scored 17 points off the Steelers' litany of errors.
Brandon Weeden added a touchdown pass while completing 17-of-26 throws for 158 yards with an interception before suffering a concussion for the Browns, who are 3-3 since an 0-5 start to the season.
Weeden, who surpassed Tim Couch for the most passing yards (2,447) by a rookie in club history last week, was cleared to practice Wednesday and is on target to face the Raiders.
"You just have to be honest," Weeden said of the NFL's concussion protocol. "There's several steps you've got to work out. There's a long laundry list of things you've got to do, but the main thing is just be honest and tell them what your symptoms are and tell them how you feel."
The Raiders lead their all-time series with the Browns 11-8, including a 24-17 win in Oakland last season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Oakland's defense has fallen apart during its losing streak, allowing 169 points -- the second-most during a four-game span since the 1970 merger.
The Browns aren't all that explosive but Richardson, who leads all AFC rookies with 755 rushing yards and has 407 of them over his past four games, seems to be finding his NFL legs and could be a problem a Raiders D, which has allowed a mind-numbing 728 rushing yards since last winning.
Conversely the Oakland offense mustered a season-low 218 yards in Cincinnati last Sunday and needs more balance. That could come from the return of running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, who are both back practicing after missing the prior three games with ankle sprains.
"It feels like it's been a lot longer than it actually has," Palmer said of his injured backs. "(It's) just good to see them in the huddle and see them get reps and see Darren smiling and hitting the hole hard, and same thing with Goody."
McFadden rushed for 91 yards with a TD in his last game versus the Browns and the Raiders are 9-2 when the former Arkansas star hits the century mark.
"(McFadden is) explosive," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "He's one of those guys that can score when he has the ball in his hands. With him not being in there, of course that's hurt them. With him being in there, it's obviously going to help them."
Oakland hasn't even been competitive over the past three weeks and Cleveland certainly has a shot to win its first road game since a triumph in Indianapolis back on Sept. 18, 2011.
That said, the Browns aren't exactly used to wins coming in bunches while Palmer is 9-3 as a starter in his career against Cleveland. That and McFadden's return should be enough to get the Raiders back in the black for at least one week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 24, Browns 21