ORCHARD PARK — A big part of the National Football League is perception ... which, as the cliché goes, is reality.
Take Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Bills at “The Ralph,” a match-up of two road upset winners on the NFL’s opening weekend.
For Buffalo, it wasn’t so bad ... a win at Kansas City followed by the home opener against Oakland.
For the Raiders, it’s a way more difficult road ... literally. They opened with a victory in Denver on Monday night and now must cross the country, in a short week, to play the Bills.
Conspiracy theorists would say it’s the NFL’s way of continuing its feud with Oakland’s maverick owner Al Davis.
But on Wednesday afternoon, in a conference call with the Bills’ media, first-year Raiders’ coach Hue Jackson, when asked about the scheduling, was almost dismissive, “We line up and play where and when the NFL tells us to play.”
He denied the two season-opening games over 2,000 miles apart were an issue in his lockerroom.
However, you can bet the timing and location of the Raiders’ first two games has been an issue, at very least with Oakland’s front office.
AND THAT leads to Sunday’s on-field match-up.
In Monday night’s 23-20 win over the Broncos, Oakland, the NFL’s No. 2 rushing team last season, tore up Denver for 190 rushing yards, 150 on 22 carries by elite back Darren McFadden.
In 2010, the Raiders averaged 156 rushing yards per game, second only to Kansas City (164), meaning on consecutive Sundays, Buffalo, the league’s worst run defender in 2010, will play last year’s top two rushing teams.
And the way Oakland handled Denver on Monday night — McFadden converted a 3rd-and-13 by going 20 yards on a draw — the Raiders haven’t lost their edge.
When asked if he was impressed by that play, Bills’ coach Chan Gailey noted, “Scary is the better term. If they can do that, that makes you open your eyes pretty wide because it doesn’t allow you to just drop back and play pass defense like you can against some teams. You need to be able to stop the run on every down.”
He added, “(Denver) was evidence that they’re very good at it. Last week (against Kansas City) was a challenge in the run game but this will be a bigger challenge in my opinion because they’re so massive up front and their backs are big and strong and run downhill.
“Last week (by the Chiefs) it was edge, hitting a crease, dip, dart ... (Oakland) is right at you, ‘Here we come, see if you can stop us.’”
But that’s where the perception comes in.
The word “massive” when referring to the Raiders’ offensive line seems appropriate.
But based on Oakland’s roster, its front five averages 310 pounds. Big, to be sure but, for the record, Buffalo’s is bigger by two pounds more per main.
What about the Raiders’ four-man defensive front?
Oakland’s crew plays to a 296-pound average while Buffalo’s three-man front — admittedly with a 3-4 alignment the linemen tend to be bigger than those in a 4-3 — is 312.
The point is, facts are often at odds with what coaches and players perceive.
WHAT IS reality is the way the Raiders attack.
“Their front four is very strong penetrators,” Gailey said. “They really get after you and create. They try to disrupt the running game by penetrating and they try to create pass rush by penetration.”
To which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick added his own perception.
“Just in general, up front, this may be the biggest and most physical team we'll see,” he said. “That’s going to be tough ... a focus for us because all those guys have great size ... they all have great motors.
“They’re going to be able to get some pressure on me.”
Fitzpatrick added, “I've got to be able to throw it away when the pressure is there. We have to be able to at times, hopefully get those guys tired, get them switching in and out. There’s not a whole lot you can do other than me trusting my guys in front of me to block them.
“You saw the Monday night game with Denver ... they’re a disruptive bunch. They get a lot of pressure up the middle. They get a lot of pressure on the edges. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
THEN THERE’S the other side of the ball.
Of Oakland’s running game, linebacker Shawne Merriman maintained, “Those (linemen) are big, they’re strong and they get down hill.
“They have two good backs (McFadden and Michael Bush) back there. We have to bring them down. They get a lot of yards after the first hit and you have to make sure a lot of guys are there.”
He concluded, “The way they adapt is by power. They’re big guys and they look to kind of maul you in a way.”
And having played the division-rival Raiders eight times in his five-plus seasons with San Diego, in Merriman’s case, perception really is reality.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)