When the Oakland Raiders step on the field at Hard Rock Stadium, they’ll be confronting an opponent owning an inglorious distinction.
Mathematically, the Miami Dolphins are the most fraudulent team in football. Ostensibly, the 4-3 Dolphins are in the midst of the AFC wild-card discussion.
The other numbers tell a different story.
Outscored by 60 points through seven games, the Dolphins boast the worst point differential for a 4-3 team in NFL history, according to Football Outsiders.
The offense, directed by Jay Cutler when he’s healthy and Matt Moore when he’s not, has been putrid.
Miami ranks last in yards and last in points. The team has been shut out twice and managed only a garbage-time touchdown in a third game.
For a Raiders defense that has surrendered the sixth-most yards in the NFL, the matchup with Miami is a much-needed gift.
It’s not just the Dolphins’ statistical ineptitude that projects a promising outcome for the Raiders.
Cutler is returning from multiple cracked ribs. In a sport that takes itself far too seriously, Cutler is the outlier.
At the news conference, Cutler, famous for his apathy, is the anti-Derek Carr.
“Not bad. Not great. Not bad,” Cutler told reporters in Miami when asked about the status of his ribs.
Care to elaborate?
Are you sore?
Cutler doesn’t know what will happen when Khalil Mack inevitably breaks free on the edge.
During the practice week, Cutler wears the red non-contact jersey like a shield.
Even the veteran quarterback had to admit that having injured ribs is far from an ideal situation.
“I think it’s challenging for anybody,” Cutler explained. “Your core is kind of instrumental about everything you do. So, if you move, you have to use your core.”
The Raiders won’t have to worry about corralling what had been Cutler’s chief safety valve, running back Jay Ajayi, who was curiously traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday for a fourth-round pick.
For a Raiders defense that can use all the help it can get, it’s another break.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. leads a unit that has so far produced zero interceptions.
“I think we all had a certain vision of what the season was going to be like,” Norton said during his midweek news conference at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “I don’t think anybody envisioned this first half going the way it has.”
One boon for Norton and Co. is that the Raiders will finally have the services of Obi Melifonwu, the second-round pick who’s set to make his debut after a knee surgery stranded him on the injured reserve.
“We were really excited about him on draft day,” Norton said of the rookie safety. “Really looking forward to seeing him run and use his speed and his size.”
Carr, always one to compliment his teammates, offered a vote of confidence for Melifonwu, who he’s been facing off against on the scout team.
“[He’s] crazy athletic,” Carr said. “I think what he’s going to be really good at is being able to man-match tight ends. I really think that’s an advantage for him. Usually as a quarterback you see a safety and tight end, we like that.
“But Obi is the kind of guy who’s fast, he’s explosive,” the quarterback added. “He’s strong and he really works hard.”
While Melifonwu prepares for his initial NFL game, the young safety and his defensive colleagues have also benefited from another week of soaking up all the knowledge and experience from midseason pickup and universally respected veteran NaVorro Bowman.
Melifonwu and Bowman’s boss, Norton — rarely one to impress or inspire with his words — insists there’s nothing left to say.
“[We’re] excited about getting on a roll and you can’t get going until you get that first one,” Norton said. “So, it’s going to happen. We know it’s going to happen. We truly believe. It’s about going out there and not talking about it, going out there and doing it.”