MIAMI -- It's Week 2 of the regular season, and at least one Raiders player believes Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium could change the course of the season.
"It's a big game, a big game," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "I mean, you go down to Miami and you don't want to get into an 0-2 hole with Pittsburgh and then Denver coming through. It's a must-win, right here."
Facing Miami hasn't exactly been a feel-good story for the Raiders in recent years. They went into last season in first place in the AFC West with a 7-4 record, and were playing a 3-8 Miami team dealing with rampant speculation that coach Tony Sparano was on his way out.
The Dolphins led 34-0 after three quarters, and when the 34-14 beat-down was concluded there were serious questions about the viability of the Raiders as a playoff team. They won only one more game and lost the division title on the last week of the season.
In 2010, Miami embarrassed the Raiders 33-17 in Oakland, and the Dolphins won 17-15 in Miami in 2008.
The respective coaching staffs don't put much stock in recent history, given Raiders coach Dennis Allen and Dolphins coach Joe Philbin are both in their first year and have done extensive makeovers to their respective offense and defense.
But the memories for Raiders players aren't pleasant.
"I've tried to forget about that one," quarterback Carson Palmer said of last year's loss. "It was a weird
Stefen Wisniewski, who'll start at center against Miami, wasn't interested in getting into details but recalled, "We got beat pretty bad."
Aside from Sparano's job status -- he didn't last the season -- the Raiders' side story last season was that linebacker Rolando McClain, while returning home to Alabama after the death of a relative, was arrested on four misdemeanor charges that eventually resulted in a conviction that is currently under appeal.
McClain played in the game but didn't start because he'd missed a week of practice.
Allen rejects the theory that beating Miami is more important because of what follows in the form of the Steelers and Broncos.
"They're all must wins. Every game's important," he said. "You can't look towards the future."
Playing to the Raiders' advantage will be their promising defense facing a rookie quarterback in first-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill, affording in theory the opportunity for some forced mistakes and a quick getaway.
"They key is to start fast and start strong, stay on schedule offensively, then find a way to take the ball away a couple of times," Allen said.
Difficult challenges facing the Raiders include a stout Miami run defense operating against an Oakland zone scheme running game that struggled in Week 1, and the promise of mid-80s weather with high humidity.
Although the Dolphins were 30-10 losers at Houston in their opener, they stuffed one of the best zone running teams in the NFL, giving up just 83 yards on 24 carries.
Oakland had only 45 yards on 20 carries against San Diego.
The weather is something the Raiders began preparing for on the trip to Miami in terms of hydration. Allen said the Raiders will rotate defensive linemen more frequently than against San Diego to keep them fresh.
Some Raiders from southern locales weren't overly concerned.
"It's just hot. It's not like you died or anything," McClain said. "Drink some water, you'll be fine."