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Bucs opponent preview: Raiders, Week 8

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2016, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Soon after Derek Carr and Khalil Mack were drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2014, they got together and vowed to change the culture of a franchise that had only known losing for more than a decade. 
With the franchise quarterback and pass rusher entering their third season as pros, that has been accomplished. Now the Raiders have their sights set on larger goals of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. 
(AP Photo/Ben Margot, File) LA402

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2016, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Soon after Derek Carr and Khalil Mack were drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2014, they got together and vowed to change the culture of a franchise that had only known losing for more than a decade. With the franchise quarterback and pass rusher entering their third season as pros, that has been accomplished. Now the Raiders have their sights set on larger goals of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File) LA402

When they play: Week 8 (Oct. 30) in Tampa

2015 record: 7-9

Last time vs. Bucs: Tampa Bay beat the Raiders, 42-32, in Oakland in 2012, a game best known for then-rookie Doug Martin's amazing effort: 251 yards on 25 carries, with touchdowns of 45, 67, 70 and 1 yards. It remains his career high for yards.

2016 outlook: Oakland's a trendy pick to win the West, seeing the emergence of third-year stars Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, plus the influx of talent from big spending in free agency, like OLB Bruce Irvin and OL Kelechi Osemele. Oddly, three of their first four are on the road, as are three of their last four. Dominate those middle eight, though, and they'll be one of the NFL's better stories.

Player to watch: Mack is a potential Defensive Player of the Year -- he broke loose with 15 sacks last season, second only to Houston's J.J. Watt. Already a Pro Bowler and All-Pro, he had five sacks in one game last season.

Rookie to watch: Second-round DL Jihad Ward will make an impact at defensive tackle, but has the quickness to cameo outside at end -- he played receiver in high school, and joins fellow rookie Shilique Calhoun as a supporting cast around Mack in a young, rising front seven.

Key matchup: WR Amari Cooper vs. his hands. Like Mike Evans, Cooper had a good 2015 as a rookie but left so many balls on the field. Cooper had 1,070 yards and six touchdowns, but caught only 55 percent of his targeted passes. Improve that efficiency -- he had zero catches on eight targets against the Broncos and Oakland still won -- and he can be a dominating receiver.

Familiar face: Remember Donald Penn? His consecutive starts streak, now at 140 games and counting, goes back so far it would include a Bucs playoff game, way back in 2007. Entering his third year with Oakland, he showed enough to earn a two-year, $14-million salary as a reliable NFL left tackle.

Cool stat: How wild is it for Oakland to have thrown for 34 touchdowns last year? That's up from 22 the year before -- the Raiders had 10 or less three times since their Super Bowl against the Bucs. Derek Carr's challenge is to repeat that success -- or even surpass it -- when the league sees him coming this time around.

Bucs opponent preview: Raiders, Week 8 09/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2016 10:10pm]
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