Looking at the schedule at the beginning of the 2015 season, many would have said the Green Bay Packers’ game against the Oakland Raiders would be a laugher or maybe a cakewalk. Instead, this game has a much different feeling to it in December than it did at the beginning of September.
While the Packers (9-4) are a contender like many expected, the Raiders (6-7) have been a bit of a surprise. Usually by this time, Oakland is already eliminated from postseason contention, but the Raiders still have an outside shot of making the playoffs.
Green Bay holds a 7-5 series advantage over the Raiders, which includes the Packers’ 33-14 victory way back in Super Bowl II.
Green Bay at Oakland
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Green Bay -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Eddie Lacy and the Packers’ running game
Aaron Rodgers always is the opposing team’s focal point when trying to slow down Green Bay’s offense. This week, the Raiders also will have to keep an eye on Lacy and the rest of the Packers’ rushing attack.
In their last three games, Green Bay has pounded out a league-best 158 yards per game on the ground. While Oakland’s rushing defense has been better the last two weeks against Tennessee and Denver, the Raiders will have to worry about a mobile quarterback, Lacy and James Starks. All three average at least four yards per carry.
2. Khalil Mack
In the Raiders’ 15-12 victory over the Broncos last week, Mack had his best game as a pro. The pass rusher recorded five sacks, all of them coming in the second half.
Mack tied Howie Long’s franchise record for the most sacks in a game. The 2014 first-round pick needs just three sacks in the last three games to break Derrick Burgess’ franchise record for sacks in a season (16).
Green Bay tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari will have the tough task of trying to slow down Mack this afternoon.
3. Latavius Murray
Green Bay comes into Week 15 with the No.22 rushing defense in the NFL, giving up 116.4 yards per game. This matchup should provide a golden opportunity for Murray to break out of his slump.
Murray hasn’t rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since the Raiders’ 34-20 victory against the New York Jets on Nov. 1. In his last five games, Murray has averaged just three yards per carry.
Oakland will need Murray to be productive with his carries to help keep the Packers’ defense honest. If Murray does have success on the ground, it should create opportunities for quarterback Derek Carr to make some plays with his arm.
With Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy reassuming the play-calling duties, it is tough to know what to expect from the Packers’ offense. One thing the Raiders will have to do is continually harass Aaron Rodgers if they want to have a shot to win.
The Packers will likely start a pair of rookie cornerbacks in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper has hit a bit of a rookie wall as of late, but this could be the game he comes out of his slump.
The Raiders have played teams tough at home and this afternoon shouldn’t be any different. Oakland will make life tough on Rodgers and his struggling receiving corps and that will be the difference in one of Week 15’s better games.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Packers 28
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.