GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) – With a punishing running game, strong pass rush and perhaps the NFL’s best kicking game, the Oakland Raiders just might have the formula to challenge the Green Bay Packers’ bid for a perfect season.
That said, Raiders coach Hue Jackson knows his team will have to muster something near perfection to derail the 12-0 Packers.
“You just have to play your best game,” Jackson said. “You have to play as well as you’ve played all year. That’s why everybody’s going to take their shot at them, no doubt. It’s our opportunity now. We’re the next team up and we’re not coming in to lose. That’s for sure.”
But going into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, the Raiders weren’t anywhere near their best last week. Oakland is coming off an uninspiring 34-14 loss at Miami – not the kind of effort expected from a team that’s trying to claw its way into the playoffs.
The Packers are coming off a thrilling last-second victory over the Giants in New York. Now they’ve won 18 straight games, including the playoffs, the second-longest winning streak in NFL history.
Packers players continue to fend off talk of going undefeated and expect a strong effort from the Raiders.
“They’re fighting for a playoff spot right now,” Aaron Rodgers said. “They’re tied for the division lead and they know how important this game is to them. This game is important to us, too. We have an opportunity to sew up a first-round bye and to get to 6-0 at home. It’s an important game for both sides and we’ll be ready for their best shot.”
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said the Raiders are more worried about trying to win the AFC West than they are about stopping the Packers’ winning streak.
“I (couldn’t) care less if they’re trying to go undefeated,” Heyward-Bey said. “They could be 0 and whatever, and I’m still trying to get that win. So, whatever their deal is and how they want to go about their business, is their business. I know our business is just trying to win our division.”
Oakland’s formula for beating the Packers would likely include a heavy dose of running back Michael Bush, a powerful 245-pounder. The Packers struggled to stop another big back, LeGarrette Blount, in a Nov. 20 victory over Tampa Bay.
But quarterback Carson Palmer could use a few more of his offensive playmakers back from injury.
Running back Darren McFadden has missed five straight games with a right foot injury, receiver Jacoby Ford has missed three games with a left foot injury and receiver Denarius Moore has missed two games with a right foot injury.
That has been a challenge for quarterback Carson Palmer, who’s still trying to get up to speed on the Raiders offense and trying to establish chemistry with his new teammates.
Still, Palmer can’t wait to play at Lambeau – even with temperatures dipping into the 30s this week.
“It’s my favorite place to play,” Palmer said. “I love getting a chance to go out there and play and just be in that atmosphere. It’s a great environment. It’s fun to be cold.”
The Packers have spent most of this season talking about getting better on defense, but their formula has remained pretty much the same: The Packers give up a ton of yards, especially through the air, but seem to make enough big plays to get the ball back to the offense.
“Everybody’s going to blow up certain aspects of the game that aren’t going 100 percent the way the offense is right now, which is operating on all cylinders,” Clay Matthews said. “Yeah, of course we’d love to give up less yards, less big plays, and continue to improve. And we will. I think points per game is what really matters, and the plays we’re creating. There’s still a lot left out there that we haven’t given, which we need to moving forward.”
The Raiders have 33 sacks this season, tying them for fifth-most in the NFL. They’re led by Kamerion Wimbley, who has seven sacks – including four against San Diego on Nov. 10.
They’ll have to get after Rodgers, who is in the middle of perhaps the best season by a quarterback in NFL history.
“Aaron Rodgers shows everybody love,” Lito Sheppard said. “He’s not throwing the ball 80 times to one guy. He’s throwing it to the open guy and everybody’s making plays. That’s one reason they’ve been so effective. You can’t say I’ll take away this guy or that guy.”
Rodgers says the Raiders’ secondary challenges opposing quarterbacks with lots of different looks. And as Rodgers recalls the Packers’ desperate effort to make the playoffs last year, he expects the same sort of effort from a Raiders team trying to do the same thing.
“I think that has to factor into their mindset and their preparation knowing the urgency that’s attached to that,” Rodgers said. “If you think about last year, we had to win two to get into the playoffs. There was an extra urgency and focus that went into our week of preparation. You have to factor that into how they’re going to play the game.”
If the Raiders can keep it close by keeping Rodgers off the field – or putting him into the turf – special teams could be decisive. Shane Lechler is averaging a league-best 50.8 yards per punt and kicker Sebastian Janikowski is 5 for 6 from 50-plus yards this season.
“They’re great,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t trade our two guys for anything in the world.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.