An NFL road trip that lasts more than two days is a rarity.
Unlike the other three major pro sports, NFL teams routinely return home a few ours after every game. So except for the occasional Super Bowl or overseas contest – in which teams are obligated to come to the host site early for promotional purposes – there are no extended trips. As an NFL player during the regular season, you often sleep out of your own bed only about eight nights per year.
So what the Carolina Panthers are doing – starting Sunday in Oakland and then continuing the following Sunday in Seattle – is not unprecedented but is very unusual. In a "one-game-at-a-time" league, the Panthers are considering these two games as a two-pack, a BOGO travel excursion in which the team will stay on the West Coast in between games this coming week rather than flying back to Charlotte.
Coach Ron Rivera says the Panthers (4-6) are going to the West Coast for "two reasons only," searching for two wins as they try to climb out of a deep hole they dug by virtue of their 1-5 start. It will be an arduous task, as both Oakland (8-2) and Seattle (7-2-1) lead their respective divisions and will almost surely make the playoffs.
Of the two games, the Raiders should be a slightly more forgiving opponent. Oakland's defense is not nearly as strong as Seattle's, although Oakland's offense can be nightmarishly good.
Safety Kurt Coleman said Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, a legitimate NFL MVP candidate this season, is “like a point guard getting the ball to his playmakers."
Said Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott of the Raiders: "The quarterback is playing outstanding football. ... And their receivers outside are having career years with (Michael) Crabtree and (Amari) Cooper."
Oakland's offensive line is also one of the biggest and most physical in the league, leaving Carr far more time to throw the ball than his older brother (former No. 1 overall draft pick and major bust David Carr) ever got.
Carolina should be able to score too, though, as long as the Panthers' patched-up offensive line can control the pass rush of Khalil Mack.
Oakland's secondary gives up all sorts of big plays, which is why the Raiders rank 29th in the NFL in yards allowed. The Panthers will need to score and score a lot to keep pace with that Raiders offense, so this game has serious shootout potential.
If you aren't really familiar with Oakland or the Raiders, that's understandable. The Panthers haven't played in Oakland since 2008, and the Raiders themselves haven't had a winning season since 2002. That's right, 2002!
Now the Raiders are good again – and they are also trying their best to leave. Owner Mark Davis, the son of former owner Al Davis, wants to move the team to Las Vegas.
This game, though, will be played in Oakland Coliseum – which Sports Illustrated recently called "a decrepit, leaking relic with a pesky sewage problem."
So no, it probably won't be pretty – maybe in a lot of ways. But it's the first stop on this rare two-game road trip, which like any road trip has the potential to go in all sorts of directions.