By Dave Thomas

As the Oakland Raiders prepare to play host to the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers this Sunday, the table is set for quite a finish over the final six weeks of the regular season.

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For the Raiders, the path to an AFC West title is rather simply laid out. With a one-game lead over both Kansas City and Denver, Oakland (8-2) simply has to win out in order to claim its first division crown in more than a decade.

On the other hand, a few slip-ups along the way could see either the Chiefs or Broncos lay claim to the division crown.

After going to Mexico City and defeating the Houston Texans by a touchdown this past Monday evening, the Raiders have their sights set on not taking the foot off the gas pedal this last month-plus of the season.

So, can the Raiders take care of business against a struggling and yet determined Carolina team come Sunday? If they don’t, expect a little bit of doubt to creep into their heads and the heads of their devoted fans in Silver and Black.

Will Murray Be Ready To Roll?

Heading into Sunday’s meeting with Cam Newton and the Panthers, Oakland is keeping a close eye on talented running back Latavius Murray (426 yards rushing and eight TD’s on season).

Murray, who missed a few games earlier this season due to injury, rushed for a mere 33 yards in the win over the Texans. Even with those paltry numbers, he did help take some of the pressure off of quarterback David Carr, who is having an MVP-type season to date, with 2,800 yards passing, 20 TD’s.

If Murray can’t go come Sunday, expect both DeAndre Washington (302 rushing yards) and Jalen Richard (281 yards to date) to get their share of the ball. 

One of Carr’s top targets, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, has also seen limited practice this week due to ankle issues. For the season, Crabtree has 52 receptions for 601 yards, adding six touchdowns along the way.

In the event Crabtree can’t go or is limited in his play, Carr still has the second-year star in Amari Cooper (900 yards receiving, three touchdowns) to target.

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Panthers’ Kuechly Reported Out

As of late in the week, word was Carolina’s star linebacker Luke Kuechly would miss Sunday’s game as he tries to recover from a concussion.

Kuechly, who has amassed 102 total tackles with 71 stops this season to date, is the team leader in total tackles by far. Not having him in the lineup will give Oakland’s offense some breathing room.

According to the Panthers, Kuechly is on the trip, but will not see action.

Defensive end Mario Addison is definitely out with a foot injury, not having made the West Coast trip. His absence could also open some doors for Oakland’s offense, especially with Addison leading Carolina with 6.5 sacks on the season.

The Panthers are making this trip a long one, staying out West to play at Seattle the following week.

Raiders Need To Keep Moving Forward

Despite getting a Carolina squad that is banged up (especially on the defensive side of the ball), Oakland must not look past the team that made it all the way to the Super Bowl just a season ago.

Sitting at 4-6 in the NFC South, the Panthers are as dangerous as anyone with a record under .500 to this point in the season.

Finishing the regular season with three-of-four on the road at Kansas City, San Diego and Denver, Oakland can’t afford a slip-up Sunday when it takes the field against Carolina, a team desperately in need of wins to make the playoffs this time around.

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Questionable:

  • (CB) David Amerson (Knee) – Did Not Participate In Practice
  • (LB) Shilique Calhoun (Knee) – Did Not Participate In Practice
  • (WR) Michael Crabtree (Ankle) – Limited Practice
  • (C) Rodney Hudson (Knee) – Limited Practice
  • (DT) Stacy McGee (Ankle) – Limited Practice
  • (DT) Keith McGill (Abdomen) – Limited Practice
  • (RB) Latavius Murray (Ankle) – Limited Practice
  • (G/T) Kelechi Osemele (Knee) – Limited Practice
  • (LB) Perry Riley Jr. (Hamstring) – Limited Practice