Next two games are no gimmes

Though the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams, Green Bay's next two opponents, have a combined record of 7-17, they will be far from push-overs for the Green Bay Packers, says's Matt Tevsh.

Facing what should be the two easiest games of the season ahead, the Packers are more vulnerable than ever.

In the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams over the next two weeks, the Packers face arguably their worst opponents of the season. No two teams on the Packers' schedule in consecutive games have posted a lower winning percentage than the Raiders (4-8) and the Rams (3-9).

Still, the Packers are ripe for an upset. They have injuries to key players coming off their first loss in nearly two months and are getting the Raiders and Rams at a bad time. As the saying goes, "It's not who you play, it's when you play them."

This week the Raiders, winners over divisional opponents Kansas City and Denver the last two weeks, visit Lambeau Field for the first time since 1999.

"This will be a big challenge for our football team," said Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy. "They're playing probably their best football of the year. To me, I view them very similar to where we were as a football team last year, and that's what I told the team (Wednesday morning). If you know where we were this time last year, we were 4-8, and we were able to make a run at the end of the season as the foundation of what we've been able to build off this season. That's how we view this team coming in here, so we need to be ready to go."

While being ready to go should not be a problem for the Packers, who is ready to go might be. Foremost on the minds of McCarthy and Packers' fans alike is a continuing injury situation that put the Packers at a major disadvantage last week at Dallas. The Packers, who can lock up the NFC North with a win and are looking good to obtain the No. 2 seed in the NFC, have a minor dilemma on their hands. Should they sit out injured players for the sake of their long-term health or play them to establish momentum headed into the playoffs?

"We don't want to go backwards from a health standpoint for a player with a lingering injury," said McCarthy.

At the top of the MASH unit is quarterback Brett Favre, who expects to play. He took limited snaps in practice on Wednesday after bruising his right elbow and separating his left shoulder against the Cowboys.

While Favre said he feels better, he is experiencing soreness in his elbow and still has some accompanying numbness and tingling in his fingers. He is also dealing with a shoulder that he said was injured early in the game and then aggravated it on the hit by the Cowboys' Nathan Jones which injured his elbow.

Favre suffered a similar nerve injury to his elbow last year in a game against the Patriots and is really defenseless to how it responds. That makes him an unknown for Sunday's game, and he said that he would not hesitate to pull himself from the game if he felt like his injury was affecting his play or team.

"I want this team to win," said Favre. "I want to be the quarterback, but I want to make the right decision."

If Favre is unable to function effectively, the real possibility exists that recently-acquired Craig Nall would have to play at quarterback. It was learned Wednesday that regular No. 2 quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a hamstring strain in Tuesday's practice and could miss 1-2 weeks. Nall, who played with the Packers from 2002-'05, took most of the snaps in practice on Wednesday and will be cramming in preparation for Sunday. He was signed this past weekend.

The offense might also be hampered by tackle Mark Tauscher, who is doing his best to gut it out on a sore ankle. With limited offensive line depth and a battle for the starting guard positions, Tauscher will likely get the starting nod again, but could run into problems if paired against Raiders defense end Derrick Burgess, one of the top pass rushers in the league.

On defense, cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) practiced on Wednesday, but would undoubtedly benefit from another week off. Though he would be going against his former team in the Raiders, McCarthy would be wise to get him another week of rest, even knowing the Packers' defense is clearly deficient without him.

"We'll be cautious with Charles as we move forward," said McCarthy.

Though defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (ankle) is making progress and should play, spirited defensive tackle Johnny Jolly could be headed to injured reserve. After injuring his shoulder against the Panthers (Nov. 18), he has missed the last two games. A recent MRI revealed more bad news.

"It didn't look good, so we're going to take some time," said McCarthy.

Without Jolly, the Packers' run defense and defensive line rotation has suffered. The Packers have given up 370 yards rushing the last three games (at 4.3 yards per carry) to drop to 12th in the league against the run.

The Raiders and Rams field two of the best runners in the NFL in Justin Fargas and Steven Jackson. That at least gives them a chance to compete and control the game clock.

Fargas has come on of late and has 863 yards rushing (4.8-yard average) while Jackson has come back strong from injury the last couple of weeks and clearly makes the Rams a better team.

Though the Packers Ryan Grant has been impressive in recent weeks in helping the Packers' rushing attack, both the Raiders and Rams hold a slight advantage running the ball.

"Running the football is important this time of the year," said McCarthy, "probably more so than earlier in the year."

With rookies Justin Harrell and Daniel Muir entering the defensive line rotation for the Packers, there will be chances for the Raiders or Rams to hurt the Packers on the ground.

If Woodson cannot go, the Packers could be in trouble again. The team's other secondary players have been poor in coverage, instead showing a tendency to draw penalties. Backups Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams have struggled when called upon and starting safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby have not been much better.

On top of the injuries for the Packers, and because they can probably "afford" to rest some players with a playoff position almost certain, they will run into two underdog teams on the rise. The Raiders have won two straight and the Rams have won three of four with a winnable game at Cincinnati this week.

Even at 10-2, the Packers seem to have more going against them than for them at the moment. It will be a challenging two weeks – much more challenging than most probably think.

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