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NFL Week 12 story lines: Raider Nation in a good state

Oakland leads the AFC West at 6-4, and its two closest pursuers, Denver and San Diego, play each other Sunday. Not only that, but the Raiders catch the formidable Bears without injured QB Jay Cutler.

November 22, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Oakland running back Michael Bush, right, is congratulated by quarterback Carson Palmer after scoring a touchdown during the Raiders' victory over Minnesota on Sunday. The Raiders play host to the Chicago Bears this week.
Oakland running back Michael Bush, right, is congratulated by quarterback… (Eric Miller / Reuters )

Green Bay's ongoing quest for perfection, the Dallas Cowboys' surge to the top and the Harbaugh Bowl make for a full Thanksgiving NFL schedule.

As the sun sets that night, thoughts typically turn to the next holiday season. Christmas? Yes, for most.

For Raider Nation, that would be the postseason.

And for a franchise that has waited nearly a decade to qualify for the playoffs, the tumblers are falling into place.

At 6-4, the Oakland Raiders have the comfort of knowing one of their AFC West pursuers will lose Sunday when the Denver Broncos (5-5) visit the San Diego Chargers (4-6).

Beyond that, the Raiders' tough Sunday opponent, the Chicago Bears (7-3), lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, to a broken thumb last weekend and will have to send reserve Caleb Hanie into the Black Hole.

Oakland Coach Hue Jackson delivered the requisite praise for Hanie this week, but who's he trying to fool?

"He can throw it, he runs with the ball, he has all those qualities that you look for," Jackson told reporters. "He knows their system; he's been around [offensive coordinator] Mike Martz, he knows how Martz likes to distribute the ball and spread the ball around, [and] he can turn around and hand it to [running back Matt] Forte as many times as he'd like to."

Bears Coach Lovie Smith, who'll probably have to endure the rest of the regular season without Cutler, similarly praised Hanie for keeping the Bears close to the Green Bay Packers last January when Cutler memorably left the NFC championship game.

"Don't feel sorry for us," Smith told reporters. "We'll rely on our running game a little more."

Forte has rushed for 926 yards with three touchdowns, and Marion Barber (five touchdowns) is getting the Bears the tough yards. Chicago has won five straight.

But linebacker Brian Urlacher made it clear Cutler's loss is deep, saying the NFL's 10th-best defense against the run will need to produce more takeaways to compensate.

"He's our leader," Urlacher said of Cutler. "The guy we turn to for pretty much everything."

The Raiders are uncertain when leading rusher Darren McFadden (foot sprain) will return, but they have won their last two with Michael Bush (109 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 27-21 victory at Minnesota) and the steadier hand of quarterback Carson Palmer (17 for 23 passing with a touchdown pass and a scoring run).

"No turnovers — that's what you have to do to play the position," Jackson said of Palmer.

Houston (7-3) at Jacksonville (3-7)

The Texans' smooth ride to their first playoff spot has been interrupted by the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub (right foot injury), forcing USC Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart to finish the job. Can he? A real test comes against a Jaguars defense that routinely shuts down the pass, and will now gear to pack the line to stop Houston running back Arian Foster.

Buffalo (5-5) at New York Jets (5-5)

The struggling AFC East co-runners-up square off in what could be an eliminator. The Bills have looked awful in consecutive losses, with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failing to prove he was worthy of a contract extension. The Jets let Tim Tebow slip away last week, and Coach Rex Ryan drew a hefty fine for swearing at fans the week before. Who can get it together?

Denver (5-5) at San Diego (4-6)

Tebow has three straight wins, even as his boss, Broncos executive vice president John Elway, scouts other quarterback talent in college. Tebow nearly rallied the Broncos past San Diego on Oct. 9. The Chargers hung on but have lost every game since.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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