WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Raiders still have a shot in the AFC West, but they need Carson Palmer (five interceptions in two consecutive losses) to play smart. This could be an ugly game because these teams both have 27 personal fouls each while the Raiders are the top penalized team in the league once again with 130. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh returns after his two-game suspension and that means with rookie Nick Fairley’s expected return that Detroit should be able to put a lot of pressure on Palmer.
Lions RB Kevin Smith, who is bothered by a high-ankle sprain, plans to play but may need a painkiller. That would be a big plus for Detroit’s running game, plus Smith is a good receiver out of the backfield. Lions QB Matthew Stafford continues to work his passing game around his tight ends as teams have been doubling receiver Calvin Johnson.
The Raiders need Michael Bush to run effectively and keep the Lions’ offense off the field. Palmer will have Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Louis Murphy at receiver, but still no RB Darren McFadden, who misses his seventh game of the season.
CZAR’S SCOOP: There were a lot of rumors flying around this week about Hue Jackson’s job status in Oakland and a potential blowout loss to the Lions won’t change things. But Jackson is definitely safe.
One of the issues is that owner Mark Davis has been getting some advice from outside consultants about making changes in that area, besides just the hiring of a general manager, one to assume the personnel role of the late Al Davis. Michael Lombardi, who used to work for the Raiders and Davis, could be back in the mix of candidates. Packers Director of Football Operations Reggie McKenzie reportedly has been a leading candidate based on a strong recommendation from former GM Ron Wolf, who also was a personnel assistant to Davis in the 1980s.
Oakland RB Darren McFadden appears to have a Lisfranc injury and the team has been examining closely to see why its players have had so many foot injuries.
SUNDAY’S OTHER GAMES
New England at Denver, 4:15 p.m. ET: The entire analysis of this game is that Broncos QB Tim Tebow simply starts too slowly in order to take advantage of the Patriots’ woeful pass defense (308.7 yards per game) and win a shootout with Tom Brady. The theory makes sense. But if Tebow, who has won six consecutive starts, is to take the Broncos to the playoff level, he must prove he can win a high-scoring game against a talented opponent. The Broncos could try to play keep-away by running Willis McGahee (920 yards) and Tebow as much as possible. Denver PK Matt Prater has been clutch (59-yarder last Sunday) during the winning streak while Brady is 1-5 all-time in Denver.
NY Jets at Philadelphia, 4:15 p.m. ET: Eagles QB Michael Vick (ribs) isn’t 100 percent and missed some practice time this week because of soreness. Vick would love to finish the season strongly based on his poor play (15 of the team’s NFL-high 31 turnovers) earlier in the year. LeSean McCoy figures to be the main man because the Jets aren’t that stout against the run. New York and Rex Ryan shoot for their fourth straight win and definitely need it to remain in the AFC wild-card race. The Eagles are playing better defense and should be a test for Mark Sanchez, who has a career-high 21 touchdown passes.
Cleveland at Arizona, 4:15 p.m. ET: QB John Skelton starts again for the Cardinals, who simply haven’t had much luck keeping Kevin Kolb (concussion is latest injury) healthy this season. Browns QB Colt McCoy (concussion) is also out and Seneca Wallace, whom Mike Holmgren brought along with him from Seattle, gets his first start. Arizona has won five of its last six as Ray Horton’s defensive scheme has started to click with his players (DE Calais Campbell has four sacks in past three home games) while Larry Fitzgerald continues his big-play heroics.
Baltimore at San Diego, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Ravens get LB Ray Lewis back, but they won four straight without him as Joe Flacco and Ray Rice (307 yards rushing yards last two games) have picked up steam. Philip Rivers is 22-2 as a December starter, but you have to wonder whether former Ravens OT Jared Gaither is really capable of blocking Terrell Suggs, who has 13 sacks and loves to produce in prime-time games. The Chargers’ offense has player better lately as TE Antonio Gates has been running well after the catch, something he didn’t do earlier in the season. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews is 57 rushing yards from the 1,000 mark.