The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars already are off to better-than-usual starts this season.
One of them will take another big stride Sunday.
The Raiders (4-2) are looking to open the season 5-2 for the first time in 15 years.
The Jaguars (2-3), who have won two in a row , are trying to get to .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2010.
“It’s huge,” Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, and we understand that. Our expectations have been high from the start. We came into this thing wanting to be better than what we are right now.
“Obviously, we can’t change what’s happened in the past, but we have an opportunity to kind of dictate our future by going out there and handling business.”
The Raiders have handled every road trip so far this season, winning at New Orleans, Tennessee and Baltimore.
That’s three games east of the Mississippi River, and all three have been early start times for the cross-country traveling Raiders. They have two more 10 a.m. PDT starts, beginning in Jacksonville.
Coach Jack Del Rio said he would have appreciated a later kickoff in at least one of those.
“We make those suggestions to the league. They’re mostly ignored,” Del Rio said. “It is a demanding schedule and so we’re just going to do what we can to prepare our football team and come out there and compete our butts off.”
Oakland is coming off its worst game of the season, a 26-10 loss to Kansas City in which it punted three times, fumbled and turned it over on downs in the second half. Equally troubling, Del Rio’s defense couldn’t stop the run.
The Raiders rank last in the NFL in total defense, giving up 445 yards a game. They have allowed at least 390 yards in every game and are on pace to allow the most yards per play (6.9) of any team since the merger.
“We haven’t played well enough, but the good thing is that you get a chance to redeem yourself and get the bad taste out of your mouth,” pass rusher Khalil Mack said.
They could find things easier against the Jaguars, who have been mostly inept trying to move the ball with any consistency. Blake Bortles has turned the ball over too often and has been inaccurate with passes. Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson hasn’t topped 75 yards in any game this season.
And the biggest issue offensively has been Jacksonville’s inability to get much going on the ground, and defenses haven’t needed to stack the line of scrimmage to slow it down.
“We’ve got to be able to run the ball against some of the seven-man boxes that we’re seeing,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said.
Here are some other things to know about the teams as the Raiders seek their first win in three trips to Jacksonville:
RUN DOWN: The Raiders hope to get a boost in their running game with the expected return of Latavius Murray, who missed the past two games with turf toe. After rushing for 148.3 yards per game the first three weeks, Oakland has been held to 72 a game the past three games as Murray has been either out or limited.
“I want to be out there every time we step on the field,” Murray said. “I know it’s part of the game, and I’m ready to be out there now.”
DEL RIO RETURNS: Del Rio spent nine years as Jacksonville’s coach and will be back on the sideline for the first time since being fired with five games remaining in the 2011 season. He said he has no idea what kind of reception he’ll get Sunday, but it’s sure to be a mixture of boos and cheers.
“There’s always an appreciation to go back to a place you spent a good portion of your career,” Del Rio said.
HURRY UP? The Jaguars created a spark last week at Chicago when they went to an up-tempo offense in the fourth quarter. Bortles played better, and Jacksonville did enough to overcome a 13-0 deficit in the final quarter. Could they use it earlier in the game?
“I think it’s easier to find a rhythm,” he said. “Our offense feels good and comfortable in it, and we do a good job moving the ball so it’s definitely good to see that and have confidence in that package and know we have that in our back pocket if we need it.”
LONG TRIP: The Raiders will stay in Florida after the game, practicing for the week in Bradenton before playing next Sunday at Tampa Bay. Coach Jack Del Rio opted against an extra cross-country flight for the chance to keep the team together for a week in what will be like a mini-training camp setup.