ALAMEDA The Raiders were faced with the possibility Thursday of being without one of their most dependable and durable defenders as strong safety Tyvon Branch missed practice for the second straight day because of a neck injury.
Branch, the Raiders' second-leading tackler, has started 57 consecutive games after missing the second half of his rookie season because of shoulder surgery.
"If he's able to practice (today), I'd anticipate he'd be able to play," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "I'd have some real concern if he's not able to practice (today)."
It's not known exactly when Branch was hurt. Said safety Mike Mitchell, who would replace Branch, "He was kind of sore, and then on the plane, he was kind of stiff, but we didn't really know anything."
In the same situation as Branch is wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has missed the past two practices because of a hamstring strain always a tricky injury for skill position players who depend on speed.
If Heyward-Bey does not play, it will mean increased time for Rod Streater, Derek Hagan and Juron Criner.
Running back Darren McFadden (right ankle sprain) did some running on the field with the training staff, according to Allen, but did not practice. Backup running back Mike Goodson (right ankle sprain) has not begun running.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) did not practice, and he probably will miss Sunday's game against New Orleans along with McFadden and Goodson.
Free safety Matt Giordano (concussion) was cleared to practice and likely will start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Notes The Raiders announced that Sunday's game will be televised locally, the fifth straight time this season they have avoided a blackout and the 13th in a row dating to the start of the 2011 season.
Attendance in the past two home games has been down an announced 51,634 against Jacksonville and 52,055 against Tampa Bay but the club was able to declare sellouts with a new league rule that allows games to be shown on local television if teams sell 85 percent of non-suite tickets.
Running back Darren Sproles, a key weapon for the Saints as a receiver out the backfield, participated fully in practice and looks on course to return after missing two games because of a broken left hand.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees told New Orleans reporters he never took the Raiders' home fans all that seriously after seeing how they got on Doug Flutie when both quarterbacks were with the San Diego Chargers.
As a rookie in 2001, Brees watched as the Raiders crowd showered Flutie with insults, mostly along the lines of, "Hey Flutie, you're short. You stink."
So Flutie walked toward the crowd, and suddenly, according to Brees, it was, "Hey Doug, how you doing, man? Good to see you. I'm such a huge fan. Will you sign this for my daughter?"
After a few moments of warm exchanges, Flutie left to warm up, and immediately Brees said the talk reverted to, "Hey Flutie, you're short. You stink."
Cornerback Cory Nelms was added to the practice squad. Nelms was on the 49ers' practice squad last season and participated in their training camp.