The 9-3 Denver Broncos have already clinched the AFC West, but they’re gunning for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. For them, there’s no better time to take on the 3-9 Oakland Raiders, who have lost five straight games. In team’s first meeting of the season, the Raiders kept it close, with a 10-6 Broncos’ lead at halftime. Then the offensive floodgates opened, and the Broncos rolled to a 37-6 win. This time the action takes place in the Black Hole where the Broncos are 21-31 all-time. With a win, the Broncos would have their first season sweep of the Raiders since 2006. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. MDT on the NFL Network with Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock calling the game.
Broncos: The Broncos exposed the frailties of the Raiders’ 32nd ranked scoring defense in week 4. Peyton Manning had 338 yards passing and three touchdowns while Willis McGahee averaged 5.9 yards per carry with 112 total rushing yards and a touchdown. The only mediocre part of this Broncos’ team is the rushing game. Since McGahee has been out with a torn MCL, the team has rushed for 95 and 91 yards against the Chiefs and Buccaneers, respectively. They’re 22nd in rushing with 103.3 yards per game. If the Broncos are going to make a deep run in the playoffs, this is what they need to improve on the most. The team could be without Brandon Stokley (hip) for the second straight week so look for a similar game plan the team used against the Bucs in that tight end Jacob Tamme will line up in the slot. The Broncos have put up over 30 points eight times this season.
Raiders: The Raiders are 13th in yards per game (361.8) and tied for 23rd in points per game (19.6), but Carson Palmer is always good for a pick or at least a lot of errant passes. Palmer went 19-for-34 for 202 yards in week 4. He has 20 touchdowns on the year, but also 13 interceptions. His main target lately has been tight end Brandon Myers who had 14 catches for 130 yards last week against the Browns. The Broncos have struggled against tight ends this season, and it doesn’t help that starting linebacker and team-leading tackler Wesley Woodyard is sitting this one out. The Raiders also employ their running backs in the receiving game. The team’s tight ends and running backs have combined for nearly 60% of all of Palmer’s completions this season. Look for the Raiders to run the ball more than their 16 attempts in week 4 so that they can keep Manning off the field. Darren McFadden looks to be back this week, and he’ll be functioning behind an offensive line that’s adjusted to its new zone blocking scheme.
Broncos: Myers had just 1 catch for 22 yards in the first meeting, but since then the Raiders’ receivers have been bit hard by the injury bug, and the tight end has had to step up. The Broncos can expect to be defending a lot of two back, two tight end formations. It will be interesting to see how former starting linebacker D.J. Williams does in place of Woodyard. Williams has 6 tackles and one pass defended in the three games he’s played this season. Now with his football legs back under him, let’s see if the old tackling machine is back. The Broncos’ defense didn’t allow a touchdown in week 4, and they did that one other time this season against the Chiefs. Palmer has been sacked 25 times this season, or 9 more times than Manning. The Broncos brought Palmer down 3 times earlier this season.
Raiders: It’s hard to understand playing for a coach like Dennis Allen, and being ranked 28th in yards per game allowed. They even gave up 475 yards to the Browns last week. In week 4, they gave up 503 yards to the Broncos. This is a good time for the Broncos to work on their three-receiver set and work on blocking up the middle. The Raiders are 28th in rush defense and 25th in pass defense, and they’re 31st in sacks with just 14 on the season. Von Miller had one more sack than the entire Raiders’ defense. Without pressure coming to the quarterback, you might think that the Raiders are covering well down field, but they only have 8 interceptions all year. This is the kind of defense that Manning dreams of.
Broncos: The Radiers have yet to meet Trindon Holliday, the team’s most exciting special teams player. Holliday broke for a 45-yard punt return last week, and put the Broncos in great field position to get the offense clicking. He already has a 105-yard kick return for a touchdown and a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kicker Matt Prater has missed five field goals this year after not missing one in the team’s first eight games. He has three misses from 40-49 yards out, but he’s 3-for-4 from beyond 50 yards.
Raiders: Kick coverage for the Raiders has been spotty. They’re giving up 10.4 yards per punt return and 27.0 yards per kick return compared to the Broncos’ 4.8 yards and 21.1 yards, respectively. The Raiders do have a couple of the best legs in the game in Shane Lechler who is currently the league’s 9th best punter, and Sebastian Janikowski who has only missed two field goals this year.
Broncos: John Fox has played in five Thursday night games, so he knows what it takes to get his team prepared on a short timetable. He had the coaching staff preparing for Oakland even before the Tampa Bay game, and he rested guys like Champ Bailey at the end of last week’s game to save their bodies a little bit.
Raiders: Dennis Allen lost his father on Tuesday, but returned to prepare for the Broncos on Wednesday. In the meantime, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp took the reins of the team.
Prediction: Broncos – 31 Raiders- 14