The Oakland Raiders haven't faced the stiffest competition lately, but they're heading in the right direction.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know they'll have to keep moving forward without All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks.
Oakland goes for a season-best third consecutive win on Sunday when a Buccaneers victory would give them rare back-to-back road wins.
After opening 1-4, the Raiders (3-4) are back in the thick of the AFC West race after beating Jacksonville in overtime on Oct. 21 and last Sunday's 26-16 victory at Kansas City. Those certainly weren't signature wins - the Jaguars and Chiefs have two of the league's worst records - but Oakland is riding some positive momentum as it begins a stretch of five of seven at home.
"Yeah, I feel like our guys have confidence that they can go out and compete, that we can win football games,'' rookie coach Dennis Allen said. "Like I told them, this is only important if you're able to go out and win the next one.''
The Raiders last won three straight from Nov. 10-27.
Allen, though, has been concerned about the team's red-zone touchdown efficiency, which is near the bottom of the league rankings at 34.8 percent (8 for 23).
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer could find it difficult to improve in that area as Tampa Bay (3-4) is fifth in the NFL in opponent's red-zone TD percentage at 38.1 percent (8 of 21).
The Buccaneers also have one of the best run defenses in the league, holding opponents to 85.1 yards per game.
That might not bode well for Darren McFadden, who ran for a season-best 114 yards last week as Oakland won its fifth straight when he goes over 100.
The Raiders piled up 353 rushing yards in three October games after running for 243 in four September contests.
Buccaneers rookie back Doug Martin averaged 155.7 scrimmage yards in three October games after totaling 135 on the ground and 79 through the air - both season highs - in a 36-17 win over Minnesota on Oct. 25 that snapped Tampa Bay's nine-game road skid.
If the Buccaneers are to win back-to-back road games for the first time since the end of the 2010 season and earn their first victory in five tries in Oakland, they'll have to do it without Nicks, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a toe injury.
Ted Larsen or Jeremy Trueblood could start in Nicks' place, but coach Greg Schiano said Wednesday that "everyone's a possibility right now." The loss of Nicks not only could impact Martin's ability to break through the line, it could give the Raiders, who have six sacks in the last two games, more shots at Josh Freeman. The Buccaneers' signal-caller has been sacked just four times in the last three games as he's thrown for nine TDs and 1,010 yards.
"It's a tough loss - that's an understatement - when you have a guy of Carl's stature and ability that he brings to the field each week," Schiano said. "But nobody's going to feel sorry for us. That's the game. So we're going to work some different combinations this week, figure out what's best and put the best five out there we can put together and go run our offense."
Tampa Bay is averaging 34.0 points and 464 yards while winning two of its last three.
The Raiders, who had a season-high four takeaways last Sunday, could get a boost on the defensive side with linebacker Aaron Curry set to come off the physically unable to perform list following offseason knee surgery.
Tampa Bay defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (Achilles') returned from the PUP list against the Vikings, and he could see more action against Oakland depending on how practice goes this week. An increased workload by Bowers should only help a unit that recorded three sacks in Minnesota after having none in the previous two weeks.
Palmer was not sacked last Sunday while throwing for 209 yards and two scores.
Wide receiver Denarius Moore has a chance to become the first Raider with a TD reception in four consecutive games since Tim Brown had a five-game streak from Nov. 5-Dec. 2, 2001.
Oakland is 6-1 in the regular season versus Tampa Bay following a 31-24 road win on Dec. 28, 2008.