The matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders might be the most difficult to predict on the Week 15 schedule. The Packers lead the NFC North but have struggled in the second half of the season, while the Raiders are under .500 with multiple wins against playoff teams.
Green Bay is on a two-game winning streak, and they are winning in ways that they weren’t expected to before the season began. Oakland has been a pleasant surprise this season and they are coming off a big victory against the Denver Broncos, but they’ve lost four of their last six and won’t be going to the playoffs.
Below are a few things to watch for in Sunday’s game in Oakland.
The most intriguing part of this game might be the quarterback matchup. Green Bay has been among the NFL’s best teams for the last few seasons because they are led by maybe the NFL’s best signal caller. Oakland was among the worst teams in football as they looked for a franchise quarterback, but the Raiders are no longer a pushover now that they’ve found one.
Derek Carr has been as good as Oakland could have hoped. While Rodgers is much more established than the second-year player, the two quarterbacks have put up eerily similar numbers in 2015. Rodgers has the advantage in passer rating (97.5 to 96.5) while throwing fewer interceptions (five to nine), but they’ve both thrown 28 touchdown passes. Carr has the veteran beat in some areas, completing a higher percentage of his passes (62.2 to 61.2) and throwing for more yards (3,313 to 3,175).
Carr has put himself in the Pro Bowl conversation, and the Raiders have put the right players around him to help him succeed. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could both end the season with over 1,000 receiving yards, and Oakland’s offensive line has protected the quarterback. Twenty-three quarterbacks have been sacked more times than Carr.
Without Jordy Nelson, it doesn’t look like Rodgers will have a single 1,000-yard receiver in 2015. His 31 sacks are good for 10th in the NFL, and he hasn’t thrown for 300 yards in over a month. But the veteran is facing a defense that’s struggled against the pass, and he might be able to put up big numbers on Sunday.
Green Bay is considered to be a Super Bowl contender in large part because of Rodgers, but it’s their defense that has them in first place. Oakland has some standout defenders, but the team is virtually out of the playoff race because they haven’t done enough to stop opposing offenses.
The Packers rank 18th in yards allowed, but only five teams have given up less points this season. Green Bay is surrendering 18.8 points per contest, and they’ve given up 30 points just once. Green Bay’s biggest weakness has been against the run, ranking 27th in opponents’ yards per carry. But the team has done a very good job stopping the pass, ranking seventh in sacks, opponents’ completion percentage and opponents’ passer rating. Clay Matthews leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is first on the team with 90 tackles.
Oakland has a few of the NFL's most productive defensive players at their respective positions. Khalil Mack is making a late push to be included in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, leading the league with 14 sacks after picking up nine in the last three weeks. Charles Woodson has been terrific at 39 years old, ranking third with five interceptions and tied for first with three fumble recoveries. The Raiders have played better of late against bad offenses, but they’ve struggled this season against teams that can score. They rank 25th in total defense and 23rd in points allowed, surrendering at least 30 points on five occasions.
The over/under of 47 points is one of the highest in Week 15, though both teams have finished below that total in four of their last five games.