The playoff chase may be over for the Oakland Raiders, but the race for a top-five draft pick next April is still going strong. This week’s opponent, the Carolina Panthers, sits at 5-9, just a game behind the 4-10 Raiders for a top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But which team has the edge on the field Sunday?
Quarterback: Nobody will ever confuse Carson Palmer for a threat to run, but his arm is above average. The issue is Cam Newton has an above average arm and is among the best running quarterback in the NFL. Advantage: Carolina
Running Back: After a big game from Darren McFadden, the Raiders’ running game seems to be on track. Whether or not Oakland has solved its running woes, Carolina’s duo of backs is not nearly as effective. Advantage: Oakland
Wide Receiver and Tight End: The Raiders receivers have a lot of raw talent, but no one has emerged as a true, consistent threat for Palmer. Carolina has a great tight end in Greg Olsen and a remarkable receiver in Steve Smith. Advantage: Carolina
Offensive Line: The Raiders offensive line has done a respectable job at protecting Palmer, but running has been an issue. The Panthers can’t run the ball with the running backs and can’t protect Newton. Advantage: Oakland
Defensive Line: The Oakland defensive line looked amazing last week in shutting down the running game and getting after the quarterback. However, Carolina’s defensive line has far more weapons and have been a threat all season. Advantage: Carolina
Linebackers: The linebackers regained some form last week, but they still aren’t very good. Carolina has Luke Kuechly, who has been a rock in the middle of the Panthers’ defense. Advantage: Carolina
Secondary: The Raiders’ secondary has been getting better in recent weeks, but they still aren’t good. The Panthers’ rank at the top of the league in pass defense and their secondary is decent. Advantage: Carolina
Specialists: Oakland continues its dominance of this category because they use its specialists way too much. It also helps that Carolina’s specialists are not very good. Advantage: Oakland
Coach: Many will say Ron Rivera has underperformed this season, but this is a young team that has slowly gotten better this season. Dennis Allen has not been great in his first season at the helm, but he’s also a first-time head coach. Advantage: Carolina
The year is almost over and Raiders fans are glad for that.