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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Raiders


Before we get to Monday's game, I'd like to congratulate Brett Favre, Ahman Green and Marco Rivera on their Pro Bowl selections.

Those guys are not only talented players, they're class acts. And they're as deserving of their all-star recognition as any of the superstars in the league.

But in my opinion the Packers had several other players who deserved trips to Hawaii, too, starting with alternates Mike Flanagan, William Henderson and Ryan Longwell.

Also, Mike Wahle should have been a shoo-in, and yet somehow he wasn't even made an alternate this season.

For all the good things about playing in Green Bay, I think this is an area where being in a small market can hurt a player's reputation. If you put Wahle on a team like the New York Giants, there's no question that he would get all the hype he deserves for being the great player that he is.

But the small-market factor wasn't the only thing to blame in the Packers sending only three players to the Pro Bowl; an 8-6 record certainly didn't help.

If you want to send a lot of players to the Pro Bowl, the way to do it is to jump out to a good start early in the season. That way you're always leading off SportsCenter and everyone knows who you are.

But what's done is done and the Packers can't worry about it anymore.

Monday night against the Oakland Raiders, the Packers will be on the best national stage available. So if guys like Flanagan and Wahle want to prove that they were overlooked, this is their chance.

There's a danger in being too driven by such individual goals, but GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman does a great job of rallying players together. And with all that's on the line this week, you can bet that the Packers will be focused on what they need to do as a team.

Back when this game was put on the schedule, it was supposed to be a battle between three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre and reigning MVP Rich Gannon.

But Gannon is one of the many Raiders players to fall to injury this season. In fact, even backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo is hurt.

So on offense the Raiders look to Rick Mirer, while hoping that the running combination of Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley can lead the way.

The key to stopping the Raiders is to slow down that two-headed monster, and the Packers have done well in stopping the run in recent weeks.

The Raiders run a power offense and look to control the clock by picking up yardage on the ground and then working the ball to future-Hall-of-Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in a short-yardage passing game.

Rice and Brown aren't as quick as they were in their youth, but they still command a lot of respect. The guy the Packers have to be aware of though is Jerry Porter, who will line up in the slot and look to do damage on third downs.

If Mike McKenzie is unable to play because of his turf toe -- he's listed as probable -- that would be a blow to the secondary. But McKenzie is a tough guy and I think he'll shut 'em down Monday night.

If not, Michael Hawthorne and Bhawoh Jue will have to step up for the Packers' leading corner.

The key to victory for the Packers in recent weeks has been forcing turnovers on defense and they have to continue that takeaway streak if they want to continue their winning streak.

I look for Darren Sharper to come up big with an interception to remind everyone that he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

On offense, the Packers have to pound Green behind a determined offensive line and run right through the inexperienced front of the Raiders.

Just like the San Diego Chargers last week and the Chicago Bears the week before, I expect the Raiders to commit heavily to the run and hope they limit Green while forcing Favre into some mistakes.

But coming off a four-touchdown game in San Diego, the Packers have to have a lot of confidence in their passing attack right now.

Charles Woodson is an excellent defensive back, but I still like wide receiver Donald Driver to have a great game. And with the maturation of Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker, the Packers right now have the most balanced receiving corps in the league.

Any time they can get Walker in a 1-on-1 match-up, Favre and the Packers will be aggressive and go deep.

There's no reason why the Packers shouldn't be able to make some big plays against the Raiders defense.

The crowd at the 'Black Hole,' otherwise known as Network Associates Coliseum, is a rowdy bunch, but the Packers can quiet them a bit with explosive plays.

The offense has been inconsistent over the past few weeks, so I'm looking for them to send a message to the rest of the league with a dominant performance. And as much as I like Longwell kicking field goals, I hope he only sees action on kickoffs and extra points Monday.

In terms of special teams, there are only two weeks left for the Packers to return a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown, but I haven't given up on them. Going into a tough road environment, this week would be the perfect time to break one.

By the time the Packers and the Raiders kick off Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks will have played over the weekend, so they'll know where they stand in the playoff hunt.

In many respects this could be a similar situation to Game 16 of last season when the Packers had the chance to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win on the road over the New York Jets.

When it mattered most last season, that team lost for only the second time in December since Sherman became head coach prior to the 2000 season. And for returning players, I know that loss will be on their minds heading into the Raiders game and they won't want to repeat it.

I don't think they will either, because this Packers team has more going for it than that bitter taste in their mouths.

Last year's team was beat up and injured by the final weeks of the season, but this team has remained largely injury free (although it feels funny to say that since Favre is playing with a broken thumb and Gilbert Brown is playing with a detached biceps).

Almost every year, the team that wins the Super Bowl isn't the best team at the end of the season, but the healthiest team.

The Packers are only 8-6 at this point, but they're in much better shape to make a Super Bowl run than the 2002 team because of their health.

But even though it feels like the Packers have something going right now, it's way too early to be thinking about the Super Bowl or even the playoffs.

What the Packers have to concentrate on is the Raiders. They need to treat this game like it's a playoff, because in many ways it is.

If the Packers can win out, I like their chances of passing the Vikings in the standings and winning the division. That would grant them a home game at Lambeau Field and would increase their chances in the playoffs.

The Packers have to play this game like everything is on the line, because it is.

This is a game the Packers must win. It's a game the Packers should win.

Now they've just got to go win it.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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