By Sam McPherson
Thanks to a fortuitously placed bye week, the Oakland Raiders are in a great position to make the NFL playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons. Not only is the Silver & Black sitting pretty with a 7-2 record in the tough AFC West Division, but the Oakland roster is also very healthy as the team prepares for MNF against the Houston Texans in Mexico City. The Raiders have few minor injuries, and they should be in great shape to take on the Texans before an international audience.
This is professional football, so Oakland does have some nagging injuries. But with only two players listed as questionable this week, the official injury report is somewhat minimal. Three other players would be designated as “probably” if the NFL still used that term, however. The Raiders need those three players to suit up on Monday night to be at their best.
On offense, both wide receiver Amari Cooper (back) and running back Latavius Murray (ankle) are expected to play against Houston despite those aforementioned nagging injuries. Cooper was limited in practice this week, but he is proving himself to be one of the best WRs in the NFL this season, just his second in the league. Cooper is averaging almost 94 yards a game receiving, and it would take a lot to keep him off the field for a MNF game. Murray has eight touchdowns this year, despite missing two games earlier. The Raiders have depth at his position, though, in DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, so the team may not feel the need to push Murray too hard right now. Either way, he is expected to play against Houston.
Defensively, cornerback Sean Smith missed the Week 9 game against the Denver Broncos with his shoulder problem. However, the veteran CB has 24 tackles this season and an interception after starting the first eight games of the year. With the rest he got from missing Week 9 and then the time off for the bye week, Smith is definitely feeling better, but he was unable to participate fully in workouts this week. Smith should be able to play on Monday night, but the team also can afford to be cautious with his situation, based on the performance of the secondary against the Broncos’ last time out.
Defensive tackle Stacy McGee hasn’t played since Week 7 due to an ankle injury, and he was limited in practice this week. In his fourth season now, McGee has 2.5 sacks and 14 total tackles in the seven games he started this season for Oakland. That interior line penetration is hard to replace, but the Raiders won the two games he didn’t play in. That gives the team some confidence knowing McGee doesn’t have to be rushed back from his injury.
Rookie offensive guard Vadal Alexander (ankle) is also questionable for Monday. He has started two games this year and played in five overall, so he helps provide depth up front to open holes for the running backs and protect quarterback Derek Carr. Like McGee, he wasn’t able to full workout this week, so his status is up in the air right now.
Houston, You Have Some Injury Problems
The Texans had their bye week before Week 10’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Houston’s roster is beat up right now. Eight different players were listed as questionable this week for the Texans, and that’s not a good sign before a Monday Night Football matchup in Mexico. The most notable names on this list are two defensive stalwarts for the team: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (wrist) and linebacker John Simon (shoulder). Considering this defense is already missed All-World DE J.J. Watt, the Houston organization cannot afford a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, especially when facing a dynamic offense like the one from Oakland.
The good news for the Texans is that both running back Lamar Miller (ankle) and nose tackle Vince Wilfork (groin) are expected to play on Monday night in Oakland. Without Miller, the Houston offense doesn’t have much of a running attack, and Wilfork is well known for his abilities to clog an offense’s game plan.
Vadal Alexander, guard (ankle)
Stacy McGee, defensive tackle (ankle)