Raiders-Packers: Matchups to watch

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Raiders-Packers: Matchups to watch

It would be unfair and, really, false to say the Raiders are playing with house money in taking on unbeaten and untied defending Super Bowl champ Green Bay in their house on Sunday.Besides, the Raiders (7-5) have a little something to play for themselves as they enter the fourth quarter of the regular season -- their very playoff lives. So it's not like Oakland is merely playing the role of spoiler on the Frozen Tundra.Still, the run the Packers (12-0) are on is impressive. Having won 18 straight games, dating to last year and including the playoffs, the Packers can join the 1998 Denver Broncos as the only other defending champ in NFL history to start a season 13-0 and they also clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs by beating the Raiders.
The Raiders? They have the same record as Denver in the AFC West, but are currently behind the Broncos due to tie-breakers.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon from Lambeau Field:Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch (33) vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12).TALE OF THE TAPEBranch: 6-0, 205, UConn, fourth seasonRodgers: 6-2, 225, Cal, seventh seasonWhile Branch is having breakthrough, Pro Bowl-type of season, Rodgers is having a season for the ages.Not only is Rodgers the first quarterback in NFL history to post 100-plus passer ratings in 12 consecutive games, he has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all 12 games thus far, joining only Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, but Rodgers' current career passer rating of 103.8 is the best in league history.Thus far this season, Rodgers leads the NFL in passer rating (125.3), completion percentage (70.6), TD passes (37) and yards per attempt (9.42) and is third in passing yardage (3,844).Many have said Rodgers, the Chico and Cal Kid, is having the best season a quarterback has had. Ever."That's a pretty flattering comment," he said this week on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "I try and stay focused on what I've got to do to be successful each week, but the kind words are appreciated. I think you've got to keep it in the context of this season. It's hard to compare different years. I think if you look at it, I dont know that anybodys gonna be able to touch what (Tom) Brady did with his 50 touchdowns, and when Peyton (Manning) had 49 touchdowns."In a different time and era there were a number of good years before I was even, you know, an afterthought of being born. So I try not to compare years, but I appreciate the kind comments."It would be hard for any one player to slow Rodgers, let alone stop him. But Branch just might be the key, what with the way he can be used in hopes of keeping the quarterback off balance.The speedy and physical Branch has excelled against the run but has also played well in coverage this season and is always a threat to blitz."I take every game as a personal challenge, especially with a guy of his caliber," Branch said of Rodgers. "You know you've got to spend a couple more hours watching film, trying to pick up any little tips you can. Because he's that good of a player."With a guy of his caliber, there's a little more spotlight on it. But week in and week out, we want to do the same thing."Other matchups worth watching:Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (85) vs. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (21) -- No Jacoby Ford and no Denarius Moore -- again -- means DHB will not be able to hide.No wonder the grin on his face only grew wider when asked what he saw when he watched film of Woodson, who is "probable" to play as he is recovering from a concussion suffered last week."Shoot, the (2009) NFL defensive player of the year, that's what I see," Heyward-Bey said. "I mean, good player. Smart. He's a vet. He knows football. He knows offenses and being a DB who can play safety, nickel, outside corner, I mean, he brings everything together for them."Woodson, who was the Raiders' No. 4 overall draft pick in 1998 and spent eight seasons in Oakland before signing with Green Bay in 2006, is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions. He has a league high 24 picks since 2008.More than a few observers thought Woodson was entering the twilight of his career when he left Oakland. Instead, he's tapped into his Hall of Fame talent."Well, the fact that you mature as a player, you mature as a person," said Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who also had Woodson in Oakland in his first tour. "Charles had his first child, and he even said it, that when that happened to him, the sense of responsibility changed. And his whole life changed. I couldnt be more proud of Charles. I sit back and watch him every game. I love to pull (tape of) him out in the offseason and study him because the things that he does now, that he's getting all the recognition for, are things he still did here"The way he causes turnovers, the way he tackles, the ferocity in which he tackles, and goes after the ball, the strip, every single time, and the playmaking ability. It was a couple of weeks ago, that interception where he came over the top, he's the only guy that's going to make that type of play. It's fun to watch him, and I wish him wellbut not too much luck this weekend."Raiders fullback Marcel Reece (45) vs. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) -- WIth their three most explosive offensive playmakers -- Ford, Moore and Darren McFadden -- still sidelined by injury, Michael Bush and the offensive line are going to need a lot of help. Namely, from Reece.A converted receiver, Reece is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Which is why Chicago and Miami gameplanned exclusively for him and limited his touches the past two weeks.Matthews may draw the assignment of bird-dogging Reece, whether he lines up as Bush's lead back, as a tight end, or even wide. The Dolphins, in particular, shut Reece down."Yeah, they had a good package for him," said Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer. "We got him loose a couple of times, but obviously not enough. He's one of the best mismatches you'll find in the NFL as far as the position he plays and what he can do. But they had a good plan for him and we'll have a good counter for that plan this week and figure out more ways to get the ball in his hands."

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr isn’t one for extravagance. The low-key Raiders quarterback already has some nice cars, a house and some luxury items to his name, but signing a $125 million contract extension Friday morning won't prompt a spending spree.

Cornerback Sean Smith suggested he get a Bugatti. That’s a $1 million car.

“Yeah,” Carr said with a smirk. “That’s not going to happen.”

That isn’t the 26-year old’s style. Carr had a his own plan after signing on the dotted line.

“I’ve been eating clean,” Carr said. “I’ll probably get Chick-fil-A.”

That makes sense. This is a guy who celebrated his first NFL victory with a trip through a Carl’s Jr. drive-in.

There will be other purchases. His wife Heather will get something nice in the near future. His family, especially Heather and sons Dallas and Deker, will be taken care of for life.

After all that, Carr plans to spread the wealth.

“The exciting thing for me moneywise, honestly, is this money is going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands because it’s going to help people. Not only in this country, but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

Carr and former Raiders running back Latavius Murray took a missionary trip to Haiti, an impoverished nation had a profound impact on the star quarterback.

“I’ve been down to Haiti and I’ve seen some of those struggles that they have and the kids there, and my heart just… I cry sometimes thinking about it,” Carr said. “So, just knowing that we can go down there and make a difference and help, those are the kind of things that the money makes me kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Because now we can really do some things to help a lot of people.”

He plans to support those in that area, in addition to global and domestic charities he has been involved with over the years. Don’t expect a press release accompanying every donation. Carr would rather keep those decisions private.

“I’m going to do my best to make sure no one knows what we do with it,” Carr said. “I’ll just say this, I can assure you that it’s going to help a lot of people. I’m not stingy. My business manager will probably be on me saying, ‘Hey man, that’s enough.’ I won’t get into when, how or why. It’s not all about that for me. It’s about making a difference. That’s what’s exciting for me is that we’ll be able to do that.”

Carr didn't want to 'take every single dime,' handcuff Raiders long-term

Carr didn't want to 'take every single dime,' handcuff Raiders long-term

ALAMEDA – Raiders quarterback Derek Carr signed a five-year contract extension Friday morning that will pay him $25 million in 2017 and $125 million over the life of the deal.

That’s a lot of scratch. Could’ve been more.

Carr received life-changing money. He didn’t want to handcuff the Raiders front office in the process.

“I just wanted to be a Raider,” Carr said Friday in a press conference. “It’s more than just a team to me. It’s family. The way it went down, it was easy. Both sides wanted it to get done, and it was about family members figuring out to get along. We figured out a way to do it so that we have the opportunity to sign other guys who are important to this organization. That was really important to me, not to just take every single dime that we could”

That list is long but it starts with homegrown talents Gabe Jackson and Khalil Mack. Jackson is up next, and could get locked up before the regular season starts. The Raiders have some time on Mack – his contract doesn’t expire until after 2018 – and Amari Cooper should be a keeper on down the road.

“The bottom line is we’re able to continue to move forward with it, keep all the players that we need to keep in the correct timing,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “This affords us to do that. We’re going to start on that ASAP.”

Carr got the deal he wanted. The 26-year old found market value and upped the ante for NFL quarterbacks a smidge while deferring some cash payouts – his big-time bonuses are broken up over two years -- to create windows of financial flexibility to sign other players. Carr’s percentage of the salary cap should decrease over time and won’t become an insurmountable burden to his employers. His deal won’t prevent the Raiders from keeping Jackson, Mack, Amari Cooper in time, or other vital veterans in house.

With Carr locked up, the McKenzie can work deals and the timing of them around his centerpiece.

Carr understands the NFL business and his role in the market, but he wants to maintain a competitive window as best he can and understands other guys will draw huge paychecks in the near future.

He’s scheduled to draw the NFL’s largest sum next season. A record $25 million is headed his way, though that total will decrease a bit in time and will certainly he surpassed by Matthew Stafford and possibly Kirk Cousins in the near future.

“I don’t care if they all do. We got our contract done, that’s all that matters to me,” Carr said. “The other thing that was important to me is that we didn’t worry about what other people were going to do or doing. I just wanted to get mine done and make sure that the team had, again like we talked about, flexibility to make sure my friends stay around.”

Carr was intimately involved in the negotiation process. Both sides said it was easy, wrapped up well before Carr’s training-camp contract deadline. Common ground was found in short shrift once talks warmed up – preliminary talks started months ago -- and a deal was ironed out that produced smiles on both sides once the deal was formally done.

Even after taking a relatively soft-line stance on dollars and the timing of payments – Carr could’ve been difficult all year and eventually forced a franchise tag – he’s still the league’s highest-paid player. His salary will now be compared with his stats. He was a second-round draft steal before. Now he’s a big-money player. In short, expectations will rise.

Carr insists it won’t add pressure to next year’s proceedings.

“You could give me a dollar, you could give me $25 million, it doesn’t matter,” Carr said. “To me, my No. 1 goal is to make sure that I give everything that I have to this organization. There’s no pressure. There’s no we’ll be on the 1-yard line and I won’t give it to Marshawn (Lynch), I’ll throw it. None of that stuff. I don’t care about the stats. That’s not my No. 1 objective. I don’t care if I throw 10 touchdowns next year. If we win every game, that’s all I care about.”