The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have both fallen short of expectations in 2012, but we're at the halfway point of the season with plenty of time to turn things around. Both teams are coming off of victories in Week 8 and both teams are trailing in the standings.
Fortunately for the Raiders, the AFC West crown is a lot more contested than the NFC South lead, which is held by the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons. Still, both teams are at 3-4 on the season and hoping to be at .500 heading into Week 10.
Much of this game will come down to whether the Raiders can get Darren McFadden going on the ground. McFadden rushed for 114 yards last week, and the Raiders have won five straight games in which he goes 100-plus. The Buccaneers happen to boast a strong rushing defense, though, holding opponents to 85.1 yards per game.
Meet the Raiders
Oakland came out of the gate stumbling as opposed to swinging, with a new coaching staff and a new offense for quarterback Carson Palmer. When the big trade was made to acquire Palmer, the company line was that he'd look great after getting a full offseason to master the offense. That went out the window when the team switched coach and coordinator, and the adjustment to a zone blocking scheme has not been kind to Darren McFadden or the patchwork offensive line.
McFadden has been effective here and there, but has completely disappeared at others. He'll finish a game with 10 rushes for 100 yards, or he'll finish it with 25 rushes for 17 yards. The zone blocking scheme takes some getting used to, but there seems to be a couple square pegs and a couple round holes somewhere along the framework.
The Raiders hope to catch Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos for the lead in the AFC West but, failing that, they'll settle for a wild card battle with the San Diego Chargers, while the Kansas City Chiefs remain a non-factor.
Meet the Buccaneers
Once again, the Buccaneers were pegged as a team to break out, citing strong offseason moves in free agency and another draft that brought in impact players. While many of the new moving parts have been living up to (and beyond) expectations, the team as a whole is falling short of where many hoped it would be at this point in the season.
Still, the Bucs are in second place in a division that also houses the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, two teams that have turned completely around in their quests for divisional dominance. Mike Smith's Falcons are 7-0 and smart money is on nobody catching them, but the Buccaneers are still hopeful for a wild card berth, which will be a tall order in this year's NFC.
Tampa Bay just placed Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks on injured reserve, and lost the other starting guard, Davin Joseph, prior to the season starting. The interior line is in shambles, and that's not good for a team relying on a rookie running back in Doug Martin.
Local Takes: Raiders
Levi Damien from Silver and Black Pride says that Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly could have a big day against the Tampa Bay offensive line, namely its interior:
There is no reason why Seymour or Kelly should not dominate this offensive line. Their play will be key to whether Doug Martin is able to run on this team. They have played well the past few weeks and will need to continue to do so to keep the dynamic Martin from gouging the Raiders.
Local Takes: Buccaneers
JC De La Torre from Bucs Nation made his pick for the game and, as you might expect given their situation, there's not much optimism.
Raiders 20, Buccaneers 17 - Let's Make it Great Again! So let's see, the Bucs have lost both their pro bowl guards, their 2011 first round pick in Clayborn and they're headed to the west coast for a season defining game against a squad that's won two straight.
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@IKaufmanTrib - Bucs beat writer
Buc brass might be figuring they can't go very far this season with 3 major players missing from their starting lineup, so trade Talib now— Ira Kaufman (@IKaufmanTrib) November 3, 2012
With the situation on the Tampa Bay offensive line, and the fact that they just traded a good corner in Aqib Talib, the Buccaneers might be calling this one a lost season. They're not going to contend in a division dominated by the undefeated Atlanta Falcons, and the Raiders, who only have to overcome the Denver Broncos, might smell blood in the water. That offense will always struggle to put up points, but the Raider defense might be able to come through this time around and shut down the Bucs, mostly via a strong pass rush.
The pick here will be Oakland by a touchdown: 17-10 for the home team.
The Raiders are favored by as a point in most books, though some of the prominent odds-makers have them at even money, while one of them has the Raiders favored by two points. It's slim margins all around, according to OddsShark.com.
The Raiders will hit the road in their next game, when they take on the Baltimore Ravens. Tampa Bay will return home for another AFC West matchup, this one against the San Diego Chargers.
This story originally appeared on SBNation.com