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Packer Preview: Off to Oakland

The Green Bay Packers (9-4) head to Oakland to take on the Raiders (6-7) in what will be only the teams’ 13th meeting.  The Packers lead the all-time series 7-5, including wins in the famous Monday Night Football game following the death of Irv Favre, and of course Super Bowl II.  Between 1969 and 1987, the Raiders won every game in this series.  They have not beat the Packers since.

Old Friends

Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, two future hall of fame players with Packer credentials, will meet as opponents for the first time on the football field.  However, Rodgers recently spoke glowingly of Woodson, crediting Woodson with helping to make him a better quarterback and football player, and acknowledging his leadership in the locker room.  More importantly for purposes of the weekend, he also noted that Woodson was playing safety at the highest level this year.

The Green Bay passing attack has been subject to fits and starts this season, and after a strong start against Dallas last week, took a back seat to the Packer running game.  In order to turn it around, the Packers will have to deal with a sly veteran who continues to play strong football.  However, the Raiders are ranked 28th in the league in passing yards allowed.  If ever there was a week to take to the air, this would be it.

Ground Attack

As noted, the Packers relied on their running game to beat the Dallas Cowboys a week ago, in Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s first game back calling plays.  All told, the Packers ran the ball 44 times for 230 yards.  The Raiders rank 12th in the league in yards allowed per game on the ground, in part because most teams have beat them in the air.  They give up 4.2 yards per carry.  With Eddie Lacy having gained 100 yards in three of the Packers’ last four games, and James Starks enjoying a run of strong play in relief, it would seem the Packers should be able to move the ball against Oakland in either facet of the game.

Carr and Cooper

Raider fans are feeling good about the teams’ future due to the play of second year quarterback Derek Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper.  Carr is having a terrific sophomore season, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 3313 yards and 28 touchdowns.  Carr has thrown just 9 interceptions, and his rating is a strong 96.5.

Meanwhile, Cooper has amassed 929 yards through 13 games. He is getting very little talk for offensive rookie of the year, with most of the discussion focused on running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jamies Winston.  However, if he finishes the year strong and can approach 1,200 yards, it would be difficult to leave him out of the discussion.

But the Packers have proved hard to pass on, ranked 11th in the league in yards against (3039), 14th in yards per attempt allowed (7.1), 7th in opponent’s quarterback rating (81.5), and 12th in interceptions (12).  For the Raiders to win this game, they will need to accomplish what, frankly, a few teams have been able to do: exploit Dom Capers’ defense in the air and gouge the Packers for yards.  As has been seen in this and previous seasons, it is possible to do so with strong quarterback play, and indeed Capers’ defenses have a knack for giving up 500 yard passing games to quality opponents.  Is Carr ready to make that sort of impact on a game?  It may well be that the answer to that question determines the outcome.

Prediction

Predicting Packer games this season is not an easy task.  The team has been inconsistent and the offense subject to long periods of low productivity.  However, the Packers played better (if not great) on offense following McCarthy’s decision to take the reins, and are playing to stay in the race for a first-round playoff bye and the lead in the NFC North.  They should be motivated to get past Oakland, and for the first time since October appear to have a little momentum.  This game could go either way, but I see a Packer victory.  Green Bay 24, Oakland 20.