THE STORY: The Oakland Raiders haven’t been in first place this late in the year since 2002 – the season they last went to the Super Bowl. While it would be a long shot for the Raiders to go all the way in 2011, their remaining schedule – coupled with the difficulty of others – makes them the favorite to win the AFC West. Oakland takes a half-game lead over Denver into Sunday’s game against the Vikings in Minnesota. Oakland is in this position thanks to its 24-17 victory at San Diego last week. The Vikings were crushed by Green Bay 45-7 on Monday night, and are struggling on both sides of the ball. Raiders running back Darren McFadden is expected to miss his third straight game with a foot injury, but Michael Bush has unleashed a career stretch of excellence in his place and quarterback Carson Palmer is showing flashes of his Pro Bowl form.
TV: CBS, 1 p.m. ET. LINE: Raiders -1, O/U 45
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (2-7): Minnesota’s secondary is in shambles after Antoine Winfield was lost for the season when he suffered a broken clavicle Monday. Defensive end Jared Allen could help, though, by putting pressure on Palmer. He has at least one-half sack in a franchise-record 11 straight games and leads the NFL with 13.5. The Vikings could also try to use running back Adrian Peterson as a way to keep the Raiders’ offense off the field. Peterson is fifth in the NFL with 846 yards, 71 behind leader Fred Jackson of Buffalo.
ABOUT THE RAIDERS (5-4): Despite the loss of McFadden, the Raiders’ running game hasn’t sputtered as Bush has averaged 117.3 rushing yards in his last three games. Bush also had a career-high 85 receiving yards last week and his 242 yards from scrimmage were the most by a Raider since 1963. Wide receiver Jacoby Ford has an injured foot, too, and is doubtful to play. Palmer was 14 of 20 for 299 yards last week and formed a bond with rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore, who caught two touchdown passes.
1. Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had a career-high four sacks last week.
2. The Vikings signed cornerback Benny Sapp, who was victimized by Tom Brady, Wes Welker and the Patriots in Week 1 and released by the Dolphins the following day.
3. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder has three touchdowns and three interceptions in three starts since taking over for Donovan McNabb.
PREDICTION: Vikings 24, Raiders 21. Peterson has a big game and Minnesota shows pride after the Monday Night Football debacle.