The Denver Broncos finally start division play on Sunday. They host the Oakland Raiders (2-4) in what is usually a very physical and competitive game. The Raiders have won their last two at Invesco Field, but have yet to win an away game this season. They did beat the Chargers in a thrilling game, but like the Broncos, they’ve had their ups and downs. With the same record as the Broncos and the Chargers, things in the AFC West should open up a bit. The Broncos play six of their last ten games against divisional opponents. These are the games that count, and after two consecutive losses, you can count on the Broncos putting forth their best effort on Sunday. My Prediction: Broncos 23 Raiders 17
Broncos - As the season continues, the Broncos will need the running game to continue to pick up steam. A strong running game is the key ingredient to success. The top three teams in the league, all with no more than one loss, have a rushing attack that’s ranked no worse than 12th in the league. The Jets (2nd in rushing), Steelers (9th in rushing), and Patriots (12th in rushing) don’t have the best passing offenses. The Jets are 25th, the Steelers are 28th, and the Pats are 14th. The Broncos are last in rushing and 3rd in passing. The key is these offenses are still able to get points on the board by rushing and controlling the clock, and by putting some weight on their defense. A balanced offense doesn’t necessarily seem to be most important if we look at this season and how things are playing out. Against the Raiders, the Broncos will be seeing a lot of man-to-man coverage and their secondary is very fast. One-on-one, every defensive player for the Raiders can keep up with the Broncos. The key to getting points on the scoreboard will be in creative play calling that forces the Raiders to play more zone.
Raiders- Much of the Raiders’ offense relies on their big running backs. Darren McFadden is averaging 98.0 yards per game (4.6 yards/carry) and Michael Bush is averaging 51.0 yards per game (3.6 yards/carry). The Raiders will most likely pound the ball into the Broncos front seven considering there is a question mark at quarterback. Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski are both injured and their status for Sunday is unknown at this point. Third string QB Kyle Boller could get the call to start under center. When the Raiders do throw the ball, tight end Zach Miller is a major contributor to their offense. He’s great on third down plays and in the red zone. He leads the team in receiving yards and is averaging 64.7 yards per game. All of their receivers have the speed and size to take advantage of any gaps downfield. This offense certainly does not lack life. They just need a consistent situation at QB to groom all of the talent that they have.
Broncos - Brian Dawkins, Andre Goodman, Darcel McBath, and Champ Bailey were held out of practice yesterday, but don’t count all of them out on Sunday. They are nursing injuries after three especially physical weeks on defense. They had to play the 2nd and 3rd best rushing teams (Jets and Titans), and a very physical offense in Baltimore. The Broncos will need to play Zach Miller in a similar way that they played Dallas Clark of the Colts. The only difference is that they can’t let another receiver cut loose for 171 yards and 2 TDs like Austin Collie did. The good news is Boller (or whoever starts) doesn’t have the football intelligence or the arm that Peyton Manning has. The Broncos have proven that they can stop the run this season after holding LaDanian Tomlinson 30 yards below his average and holding Chris Johnson to roughly 50 yards below his average at the time. As long as the Broncos bring the same kind of intensity that they had in the Jets game, stopping the Raiders’ offense shouldn’t be a problem.
Raiders- This is a great opportunity for the Broncos to get their running game going. Oakland is ranked 30th against the rush, but 8th against the pass. Nnamdi Asomugha is a great shutdown corner who was greatly respected by Mike Shanahan. His counterpart on the other side of the field is Stanford Routt, and he has 5 pass deflections on the season and is the team’s 7th leading tackler. Richard Seymour is playing at a high level right now and he’s always on the “sack watch” list. Rolando McClain is also a very good young talent. Like the offense, the Raiders defense has a lot of individual talent that just needs some ironing out.
Broncos - This could be a field position battle for the Broncos if they can’t extend offensive drives. The Raiders have a solid special teams unit, so the Broncos will need to step up their kick coverage and their own return game. Having special teams’ captain, Wesley Woodyard, return would be a major plus in this game.
Raiders- Josh McDaniels has described this special teams’ unit as the best that they will face all season. Special teams was the big difference maker in picking up the win against San Diego. They blocked two punts and had a solid return game. They have a fast coverage team and can really create some big plays in an often overlooked category of the game.
Broncos - Josh McDaniels is out for redemption. That last loss to the Raiders at home probably ate at him all summer. In Wednesday’s press conference, McDaniels said, “They certainly out-played us, out-coached us, out-schemed us, out-adjusted us last December…” (Denver Post). Playing the Raiders is like playing with fire. It can be fun and entertaining, but dangerous all the same.
Raiders- Before Rex Ryan came along, much of the head coaching spotlight was on Tom Cable. Did he punch an assistant coach in the face? When will he be fired by Al Davis? Can he revive this lethargic Raiders franchise? Now that the Cable show has mellowed, this team is gaining respect and capable of doing some great things in due time.
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