The NFL has once again returned to UK shores and Zander Swinburne’s weekly preview focuses on the most important aspects of the first of three International Series games this season.
There’s no point in sugar coating it, this game is not the matchup of the season. Both the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins have faltered early and often this season. The two teams combined have only one victory out of six games, with Oakland being one of three teams yet to record a win.
Statistically, Oakland are the worst of the two teams, averaging less yards and points per game on offence than the Dolphins. Miami don’t fare much better however, ranking 29 in the league for passing yards per game and their defence has given up on average 27 point per game, the fourth worst in the NFL. To bring back in some optimism for spectators, there are several standout players on both teams that could add some spice to this game. For the Raiders, rookie quarterback Derek Carr is the future of the franchise and running back Maurice Jones-Drew hopes to play in London following a two week absence through injury.
Ryan Tannehill starts for Miami, although whether this is a good thing is debatable (see below) and receivers Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace have the ability to make big plays. What makes this game enticing is that it is surprisingly even, with Miami just clinching favourite of the two. Teams with four losses in the first third of the season rarely make the playoffs so Sunday’s game can mean the be all and end all of each team’s respective seasons. Desperation just might make this game a great one to watch.
The Brit involved
Throughout the NFL’s history, British players have never been at the forefront of the sport, more often than not taking on the role of a kicker or punter. Even rarer has it been in the International Series’ seven year history, that a British player has run through the tunnel at Wembley. This weekend however will see Raiders rookie offensive tackle Menelik Watson emerge as the UK’s most high profile player in the league.
Born and raised in Manchester, Watson is one of several European players to break into a sport dominated by Americans. Brits are renowned for supporting fellow countrymen in sport and Watson, although a relative unknown up until this week, will now get the opportunity to inspire and capture the imagination of fans when he runs out of the tunnel on Sunday.
To keep expectations grounded, No 71 is not yet a starter at right tackle so don’t expect him to be a constant feature. However if there is to be a big cheer of the night, Watson’s presence on the pitch might have something to do with it.
Who needs a good performance?
Reading reports out of the local media in Miami would make anyone believe that the Dolphins future as a franchise is riding on this one game, and in particular the performance of the teams quarterback. Ryan Tannehill will start against the Raiders on Sunday despite a series of poor performances to begin the season. Among NFL starters, Tannehill has one of lowest passer ratings with 74.1 and also ranks last in passing yards per attempt, throwing for just over five yards.
For any NFL team, this is a formula that is simply unacceptable to stick with and so Tannehill is clearly on his last chance. The same goes for head coach Joe Philbin who has in many ways created the mess that is now the Dolphins quarterback situation. His indecision through the week to name Tannehill the starter, only to let the player do so, shows a lack of leadership from the coaching staff that could very well end with a change in management before the conclusion of the season. The Raiders should be a team the Dolphins can beat, however if they fall behind early on Sunday, the crowd may see Matt Moore under center.
Who the fans will root for?
London games were renowned for their neutrality, with fans donning every possible jersey in the NFL, and cheering exciting plays regardless of who made it. Yet over the last few years, as fans have become more knowledgeable, support for the home team has seemingly increased. At last year’s Jaguars game, despite a lackluster performance, fans desperately cheered on the London team even against a strong 49ers fan presence.
Although figures are mixed as to which team is most popular in the UK, the Dolphins have rated highly in the past following Dan Marino’s success. This Sunday’s game is a 'home' game for the Raiders with Wembley likely to be donned head to toe with silver and black.
To go with this, expect to hear nearly all 90,000 fans cheering at least one Raider when Watson runs onto the field. UK fans have now become well aware of the importance of home field advantage in the NFL so despite a big Dolphin contingent to compete with, the Raiders will be far from unsupported.Reuse content