Raiders-Panthers preview

The Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers meet in Charlotte Sunday for the NFL's low-end version of the BCS but the most compelling storyline is that they are the last two Super Bowl runner-ups who have fallen steep and hard.

Both teams enter the contest on a five-game losing streak with injuries continuing to mount. The Oakland Raiders (2-6) have lost their last 14 road games, only the Arizona Cardinals have a long active streak.

The Carolina Panthers (1-6) are like the last year's Raiders in another way. The Panthers won the conference title last year and have landed nine players on injured reserve. Oakland was the 2002 champion of its conference and landed 13 players on IR.

In matchup featuring misery and company, here's a closer look:

Raiders on offense: Oakland was supposed to become a better running team with Norv Turner replacing Bill Callahan as the head coach. Well, the Raiders are averaging just 80.7 yards rushing per game with only Miami and Detroit producing a lower average. The matchup of the Raiders ground game against the Carolina run defense is one Sir Isaac Newton would love: the immovable object against the resistible force. Carolina is yielding 152.5 yards on the ground. Losing defensive tackle Kris Jenkins for the season is no help. Oakland's running game figures to get a lift this week in featuring Tyrone Wheatley, who returned last week in limited duty after missing the previous four games with a shoulder injury.

The game is a homecoming for Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins, who was a Panther for three-plus seasons. Carolina, however, released Collins in 1998 after a myriad of personal problems. Collins has thrown five touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, all the more reason Oakland could use the running game. Rookie right tackle Robert Gallery has been a bright spot and will likely have fellow rookie Jake Grove starting alongside of him at right guard.

Panthers on offense: Season-ending injuries to wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeShaun Foster have put added pressure on quarterback Jake Delhomme. The Panthers, however, could have a glimmer of hope if running back Stephen Davis can play. Davis, who is listed as questionable, has missed five games with a knee injury but practiced for the second consecutive day on Thursday. The Raiders run defense has, to a lesser extent than Carolina, had problems, giving up an average of 130.6 yards.

If Davis can play that certainly helps the running game. Conversely, if cornerback Charles Woodson cannot play, the Raiders are hobbling even more. Woodson is listed as doubtful with a hip-pointer.

Special Teams: Each team has a very good kicking game with Oakland featuring Sebastian Janikowski (kicker) and Shane Lechler (punter) while Carolina features John Kasay (kicker) and Todd Sauerbrun (punter). This might be a good game to watch punters because a) both teams stink offensively and b) Lechler and Sauerbrun are two great punters who launch rockets.

Bottom line: The NFL might be a "you never know" league but let's face it – neither team has even a modicum of a chance for the playoffs. This game could be competitive from the standpoint that it's a rare chance for victory for either club.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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