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Raiders vs Lions preview: What to watch for, keys, story lines, match-ups, more

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It is getting into ‘must-win' territory for the Raiders. They sit at 4-5 ready to face the 2-7 Lions in Detroit. Should the Raiders win, they would pull back to .500 and stay alive in the playoff race. Should they lose, they would fall to two games below .500, needing to go 5-1 the rest of the way to finish with a winning record and any chance of a playoff spot.

The Raiders are favorites in the game. It's the third time this season they have been favored and they lost the other two (Bears, Vikings).

Here are the many keys, story lines, and match-ups to follow in the Raiders' quest for victory Sunday against the Lions:

The post-Aldon Smith era begins

Through their first nine games this season, the Raiders had one of the NFL's elite pass rushers on the field for them. Those who would like to say he won't be missed point to his 3.5 sacks on the season. What they don't realize is Smith's presence made the entire defensive line better. He is at least partially responsible for Khalil Mack's team leading 5.0 sacks through the past seven games. Mack had zero sacks at this point last season due in large part to the lack of another pass rusher to take pressure off of him.

The Raiders will look to replace Smith with a couple players. Mostly they will look to fill the role with Benson Mayowa, who has the versatility of Smith but not near the talent or physical presence. The rest of the time they will use Ray Ray Armstrong to fill in at linebacker and hope Mario Edwards can add the pass rush to complement Mack. Remember, Edwards has been replacing Justin Tuck who was placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago.

Reigning Rookie of the Week Mario Edwards "better" up his game

As if leading the team in tackles (11) along with a sack and being voted Rookie of the Week wasn't enough, the Raiders are expecting even more from Mario Edwards with the losses of Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith.

"Well, he better (do more)." Ken Norton Jr said with a laugh. "He better. Anytime you have a good football player, you expect the good football players to play good and to really take advantage of opportunities. His development, as we've all seen, is right where it needs to be and he doesn't have a ceiling. It just goes. It's limitless. We just have to keep having him do what he does best."

What we are finding is Edwards' best is flying around the field and fighting his way into the opponents' backfield. He is showing an athleticism he didn't show at Florida State, mainly because he is now over 20 pounds lighter.

Rodney Hudson return?

After missing last week's game against the Vikings with a sprained ankle, Hudson returned to practice this week and is officially questionable for the game. His return is key not just from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint. He had been replaced by Tony Bergstrom last week, and while Bergstrom filled in admirably, the offense definitely thrives with Hudson in the lineup. With Hudson healthy, the Raiders offensive line should dominate the Vikings defensive front.

TJ Carrie vs Calvin Johnson

As of last week, TJ Carrie returned to cornerback. It was Nate Allen's return from partial season IR that allowed Carrie to move back to the position which he had become the Raiders' best option. Now he will face off against arguably the most physically dominant receiver in the NFL in Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. That is literally a tall order for Carrie or any defensive back. If the Raiders are smart, they will keep DJ Hayden on the other side of the field from Megatron. The Lions best chance of putting points on the board is always to go to CJ due to their poor offensive line play which has rendered the run game toothless.

Donald Penn vs Ezekial Ansah

On the season, Ziggy Ansah has 7.0 sacks. That's the fifth most sacks in the NFL. Five of those sacks came directly through or around the opposing team's left tackle. One of the other sacks he lined up outside left tackle, and ran a stunt to inside through the left guard. That makes Ansah arguably the toughest task Penn has had to face all season long. Just like Megatron is the only elite player on the Lions offense, Ansah is the only elite player on their defense. Stopping him is the utmost priority.

Amari Cooper vs Darius Slay

The Lions' secondary is not great. The best of the bunch is Slay who leads the team with 10 passes defended and one interception. He is likely to be matched up with Raiders super rookie Amari Cooper.