The Oakland Raiders need a win badly, and they’ll welcome Baker Mayfield and the Browns to the Black Hole on Sunday.
The Oakland Raiders are 0-3, but they’ve had a halftime lead in all three games and they’ve had a lead going into the fourth quarter in each of the last two contests. So it’s a virtual must-win situation in Week 4, as the Cleveland Browns are coming to town.
The Browns ended a lengthy winless drought with a 21-17 win over the New York Jets in Week 3, as Baker Mayfield entered the game and sparked a comeback. Tyrod Taylor exited the game with a concussion, but he was playing poorly enough against the Jets (4-for-14 for 19 yards) that the door was open for Mayfield to play regardless of an injury. Mayfield will make his first career start in Oakland on Sunday.
On the other side Derek Carr has been productive, but a little too erratic at times. He’s sixth in the league in passing yards (936), with two 300-yard games and at least 288 through the air in all three games. But his five interceptions are tied for the most in the league, and head coach Jon Gruden has criticized Carr for shying away from downfield throws (after Week 1) and being too aggressive (after Week 3).
Even when the Raiders are bad, as they have been for most of the past decade-and-a half, Oakland Coliseum transforms into “The Black Hole” and becomes a tough environment for opponents. Mayfield projects an outward ability to be unaffected by things like that, but he did let kids from a 1-11 Kansas Jayhawks team distract him to an embarrassing level late last season at Oklahoma.
We’re all familiar with Hue Jackson’s record as Browns’ head coach over the last two-plus seasons (2-32-1). But given most of their recent history, his 8-8 record in his lone season as Raiders’ head coach in 2011 stands as a great accomplishment. So Jackson is making a return to Oakland, where he was also offensive coordinator in 2010, with the more talented team that will be on the field Sunday.
The Raiders have lost to two currently undefeated teams. The Rams overwhelmed them with superior talent in the second half, while the Dolphins rallied in the fourth quarter and a late interception by Carr sealed a loss. A late drive led by Case Keenum did them in against the Broncos in Week 2, as Brandon McManus tucked a 36-yard field goal inside the right upright in the waning seconds.
The Raiders and Browns are moving in opposite directions after last week, and Cleveland has had some extra time to refocus are last week’s high. Oakland could at least be 2-1 right now, if they could just close games better.
The pressure will clearly be on the home sideline this weekend in Oakland. An 0-4 record with a loss to the Browns, even as improved as they seem to be, has a chance to diminish whatever’s left of the hype that surrounded Gruden’s arrival, before the calendar even flips to October.