NFL Preview - Oakland (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - With the Christmas season upon us, Chuck Berry's infectious "Run, Rudolph, Run" has no doubt begun filling up the radio airwaves.
It's also an appropriate theme for this Sunday's December clash between the playoff-hopeful Oakland Raiders and the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
While winter weather doesn't make too many appearances in sunny Jacksonville, a run-heavy game should. The Jaguars rank second in the league in rushing, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Raiders occupy the third overall spot in that category.
Both Oakland and Jacksonville went over 200 yards rushing a weekend ago, with the Raiders using the tandem of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to run past the usually tough-in-December San Diego Chargers by a 28-13 score to snap a two-game slide. Meanwhile, running back Maurice Jones-Drew shouldered much of the load in the Jaguars' 17-6 triumph versus the Tennessee Titans.
Both clubs also have quarterbacks that can get into the act. Oakland signal- caller Jason Campbell ran a touchdown in from nine yards out on 4th-and-goal early on versus the Chargers, while Jacksonville's David Garrard upped his career-best rushing score total to four this season with one versus the Titans.
In winning for the fourth time in five games, 7-5 Jacksonville took over sole possession of first place in the AFC South, a game up on Indianapolis. It marks the latest the Jags have held the division's top spot since 1999, which also marks the club's last AFC South title.
Jacksonville was also 7-5 at this time last year, but went on to lose its final four games and miss the postseason for a second straight year. Hoping to avoid a repeat, the Jaguars have a big game in Indianapolis looming on Dec. 19, but can't look past the Raiders.
"It's a possibility [the division coming down to the Indianapolis matchup] but we've got to go through a tough Oakland team first," said Jones-Drew. "We've been watching them throughout the season and they're getting better. They stop the run well. They have an explosive offense. We're going to have to get to them before we can get to Indianapolis. So right now we're going to take it one game at a time and keep improving as a team."
The Raiders showed they are not a team to be looked past last Sunday, when they ended the Chargers' 18-game December winning streak. At 6-6, Oakland is tied with San Diego for second place in the AFC West, two games back for front-running Kansas City.
"We have to bring this level of play week in and week out," said Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour after Sunday's win. "I just think we've been inconsistent lately.
"If this team shows up that showed up [Sunday], we're capable of beating anybody. But this same team has to show up."
Oakland hasn't reached the playoffs since the 2002 season, one that ended with a Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, but is 4-0 versus its division for the first time since 1988.
The Jaguars have a 3-1 lead in their all-time series against the Raiders and routed Oakland by a 49-11 score in Jacksonville when these clubs last faced one another, back in December of 2007. That win secured the Jaguars' most recent playoff berth and is their only previous head-to-head meeting with Oakland as the host team. The last encounter between the squads held in Oakland took place in 2004, with Jacksonville dealing the Raiders a 13-6 defeat.
Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio is 2-0 in his career against the Raiders, while Oakland's Tom Cable will be opposing both the Jaguars and Del Rio for the first time.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Oakland went over the 200-yard rushing mark for the third time this season lat week, posting 251 yards on the ground versus the Chargers. That outing marked the Raiders' second- best rushing total of the season, behind just a 328-yard effort versus Denver on Oct. 24. McFadden (870 rushing yards, 7 total TD) led the way with 95 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and is just 130 yards shy of posting Oakland's first 1,000-yard rushing season since Justin Fargas (1,009) in 2007. He is third in the NFL with 122.1 yards from scrimmage averaged per game. Bush (453 rushing yards, 5 TD) added 23 carries for 95 yards versus the Chargers and also scored for a Raiders' club that is averaging 149.0 yards per game on the ground. With such a solid run game, Campbell (1439 passing yards, 8 TD, 6 INT) only had to throw 16 passes last week, completing 10 of them for 117 yards with a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jacoby Ford. Campbell was also sacked once, but did not turn the ball over. Ford (17 receptions, 2 TD) has emerged as one of Oakland's big-play threats, while tight end Zach Miller (38 receptions, 4 TD) leads the club in receptions and receiving yards (481). McFadden is second on the club with 36 catches, while wide receiver Louis Murphy (30 receptions, 1 TD) was held to just two catches versus the Chargers.
Jacksonville's 17th-ranked run defense (109.5 ypg) figures to face a stiff challenge this weekend, but held the Titans to just 57 yards on the ground last Sunday. Fifty-three of those came by Tennessee running back Chris Johnson on just 13 carries. Thanks to an early lead, the Jaguars' defense saw Titans quarterback Kerry Collins throw the ball 32 times, completing only 14 for 169 yards. Cornerback Rashean Mathis (47 tackles, 1 INT) led Jacksonville with six tackles, while four other Jaguars ended with four stops. That includes linebacker Kirk Morrison (59 tackles), who was drafted by Oakland in 2005 and spent five seasons with the club before joining the Jags in April. Jacksonville has just 21 sacks on the season, upping that total by one versus Tennessee after defensive end Jeremy Mincey (16 tackles, 4 sacks) logged the lone sack. Mincey is taking the starting place of end Aaron Kampman (25 tackles 4 sacks), who was lost for the season with a knee injury earlier in the year. Rookie and starting left end Austen Lane (10 tackles) will join Mincey in trying to shut down the outside for the Jags up front, while Morrison and fellow linebacker and leading tackler Daryl Smith (66 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) will have their eyes on Oakland's backfield as well. Cornerback William Middleton (30 tackles) notched the first interception of his career last weekend, while fellow corner Derek Cox (34 tackles, 3 INT) also had a pick of Collins. Starting safety Courtney Greene (64 tackles, 1 INT) is out for Sunday after injuring his shoulder in last week's win.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
The Jaguars are averaging 151.5 rushing yards per game and posted a season- best 258 yards on the ground versus Tennessee. Those yards came off a franchise-record 53 run attempts, with Jones-Drew (1177 rushing yards, 6 total TD) having 31 of those for a career-best 186 yards. Jones-Drew has gone over 100 yards rushing in five straight games and will try to put Jacksonville over the 200-yard mark in that category for a third straight contest. Backup Rashad Jennings got into the act as well last week with 44 yards on 10 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, while Garrard (1982 passing yards, 17 TD, 11 INT) found the end zone from four yards out in the second. Garrard has scored a rushing touchdown in back-to-back games and completed 14-of-19 pass attempts for 126 yards against the Titans. He also did not turn the ball over and is just one touchdown pass away from matching his career high of 18 set in 2007. Wide receiver Mike Thomas (56 receptions, 3 TD) led the Jaguars with four catches in Week 13, while tight end Marcedes Lewis (41 receptions, 8 TD) paced the team with 36 receiving yards on three grabs. Fellow tight end Zach Miller (20 receptions, 1 TD) added three catches for 34 yards as the Jags were without wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (36 receptions, 4 TD) for the second time in three games due to an ankle injury.
Thanks to a 21-point first half, the Raiders were able to limit the Chargers to just a season-low 21 yards rushing on a mere eight carries, the fifth time this season Oakland has held an opponent under 100 yards on the ground. Still, the Raiders rank just 23rd versus the run (124.3 ypg), compared to ninth when defending the pass (206.8 ypg). Oakland has been one of the best this year at getting pressure, as its 36 sacks are tied with Pittsburgh for the most in the NFL. Four of those came versus the Chargers, with safety Michael Huff (75 tackles, 4 sacks), linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (42 tackles, 5.5 sacks), end Lamarr Houston (26 tackles, 4 sacks) and tackle Tommy Kelly (46 tackles, 6.5 sacks) all getting to the quarterback. Kelly's season sack total is a career best, while Huff intercepted his first pass of the season last weekend. Linebacker Rolando McClain (64 tackles, 1 INT) led the way with seven tackles against San Diego, while both Huff and cornerback Stanford Routt (43 tackles, 1 INT) had five each. Routt gets plenty of opportunities to make plays as teams try to avoid cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (16 tackles), who has played in two straight games after missing two in a row with an ankle injury. Much like Jacksonville, Oakland's front seven, including Seymour (44 tackles, 4.5 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (39 tackles, 5 sacks) and linebacker Quentin Groves (33 tackles, 1 INT), will need to be aware of Jones-Drew.
Even if they split carries, both McFadden and Bush are solid plays versus the Jaguars given how many times they are likely to run the ball. McFadden has the bigger upside of the two, however. Campbell has been playing well as of late but is still a lower second-tier quarterback option, while no Raiders receiver outside of Oakland's Zach Miller is worth a look. Ford's value does get a boost if you get return yards, though. Oakland's defense is worth a look due to its high sack total, but the club does struggle forcing turnovers. Big-leg Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski is a top option with 24 field goals and has missed just once inside of 40 yards.
After a slow start, Jones-Drew is showing his first-round fantasy draft status and should get plenty of chances this weekend. He is a must-start. Garrard's speed and rushing touchdown total make him one of the more attractive second- tier quarterback options and Lewis is one of his favorite red-zone targets. Thomas sees increased value if Sims-Walker does not play. Avoid Jacksonville's defense, while kicker Josh Scobee has hit a pair of 50-plus yard field goals this year and is 18-for-22 overall on three-point tries.
For a pair of teams not given much playoff thought before the season began, this is a big game for both the Jaguars and Raiders. Jacksonville can really put the Colts in a hole next weekend if it can pick up a victory over the Raiders, who are in a fight of their own for a 2010 playoff spot. Both teams have excellent ground games that feature speed and finesse over smash-mouth ball, and this game could come down to which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes. That gives Garrard and Jacksonville an edge and a second straight victory, while Oakland's playoff chances go on life support in a close loss.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 20, Raiders 17
12/09 15:16:16 ET