One of the great rivalries from the 1970s and early 1980s is renewed Sunday in the Black Hole, as the Dolphins face the Oakland Raiders.
Both teams are 5-5 and coming off crushing losses to conference powers; 35-3 for Oakland against Pittsburgh, and 16-0 for Miami against Chicago.
The Dolphins are 4-1 on the road; Oakland is 4-1 at home.
The Raiders owned this rivalry in Oakland from 1966-1996, when they went 10-1 against Miami. But since 1997, the Dolphins are 5-1 in Oakland, with the only loss coming in a 27-0 whitewashing in a divisional playoff game in 2000.
Still, the Raiders hold an 11-6 all-time lead in the Black Hole, notoriously one of the toughest road venues in the NFL.
Bruce Gradkowski reportedly will get the nod at quarterback after relieving an ineffective Jason Campbell and completing 13-of-24 passes for 98 yards last week against the Steelers.
The Dolphins have some QB issues of their own, as it was reported that Coach Tony Sparano is leaning towards starting Chad Henne, despite a balky knee that forced Henne to miss last week's game against Chicago.
That's because his backup, Tyler Thigpen, could not generate any offense against the Bears. Thigpen completed 17-of-29 passes for 187 yards and an interception, and this week the Dolphins offense will be shorthanded without top receiver Brandon Marshall, who has a hamstring injury. Brian Hartline will start in Marshall's slot position, with Davone Bess starting opposite him, and Roberto Wallace and others seeing time at the No. 3 spot.
The offensive line continues to battle injuries as well. Top tackle Jake Long gave up three sacks last week after playing with one arm against Chicago; there has been talk of shelving him for the year if he has a similar performance against Oakland. Center Joe Berger has a knee injury and may not play, and Vernon Carey is also suffering with a bad knee.
The Bears sacked Thigpen six times last week though rarely blitzing, exposing the Dolphins' sudden weakness in pass protection.
Meanwhile, the running game continues to struggle, as the Dolphins gained just 39 yards against Chicago, and Thigpen was the team's leading rusher.
If Miami is to get the ground game going at all, this could be the week. The Raiders rank 25th against the run, but they are third against the pass, and will have top corner Nnamdi Asomugha back after he missed three games with an ankle injury.
Offensively, these Raiders like to play the way the Dolphins did last season: Pound the ball. Oakland ranks second in the league in rushing offense, averaging 152 yards per game. And the Raiders have a dynamic runner in Darren McFadden, who has lived up to his high-draft pick status with 771 yards and a 5.2 average per carry.
But if the Dolphins can stop the run, that leaves matters to Gradkowski, and the 29th ranked pass offense in the league. Top tight end Zach Miller will play this week; he leads Oakland with 36 receptions for 470 yards and four TDs.
I see this game as a defensive struggle, with neither team able to do much offensively. But, the fact the Dolphins are so beaten up and the Raiders can run the ball and should be able to exploit a shaky Dolphins pass defense makes me lean towards Oakland.
Raiders 16, Dolphins 10