Think back to the first time you looked at the Denver Broncos schedule for 2013.
You looked at the tough matchups: Baltimore and Philly at home, maybe a game against the Chargers, then road games against Dallas, Indy and New England.
And you looked for the easy wins, the no-brainers. One that jumped out was the regular-season finale – at Oakland on Dec. 29.
“Ah ha!” you said. “The last game and it’s against the worst team in football. Couldn’t get any better.”
Here it is, Dec. 29.
Peyton Manning will play, not only to add to his list of NFL records but because the Broncos have to win to retain home-field advantage through the playoffs.
The timing will not be right to answer the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Is Brock Osweiler a lock for the Hall of Fame?
Manning needs 256 yards to break Drew Brees’ one-season record of 5,476 passing yards. He will stay in the game long enough to get that done. Trust me, there will be people on the sideline keeping track and, pending scoreboard and clock, said lackeys will let Coach John Fox know when it will be safe to insert Osweiler.
So, what will the Broncos have to contend with today, sans star linebacker Von Miller, star slot receiver Wes Welker and the assortment of others who have fallen by the wayside?
First, let’s make it clear that the Raiders are not the worst team in football as had been virtually unanimously ceded to them prior to the start of the season. That “honor” goes to the Houston Texans, who, at 2-13, control their own destiny in terms of clinching the top selection in the upcoming draft. The Washington Redskins are still in the running for that honor at 3-12.
The Raiders have actually won four games this season.
Coach Dennis Allen, the former Bronco defensive coordinator, has convinced his starless team to play hard on both sides of the ball – and done a fair job of developing a decent middle-of-the-road defense.
The Raider problem, as has been the case since Rich Gannon retired in 2004, is they can’t find a quarterback.
Today, Terrelle Pryor, will start, taking over for rookie Matt McGloin. Pryor, now in this third season, was the starter early and led the team to three wins. But he went down to a knee strain in Week 9, opening the door for McGloin.
To put it into perspective on just how bad the Raiders quarterbacking situation is, McGloin is the 30th-rated quarterback in the league, according to the stats gurus at Pro Football Focus, while Pryor is ranked 38th.
The Broncos might have enjoyed playing against McGloin, who went 1-5 in his starts, showing a good arm but making too many bonehead rookie mistakes. He threw for eight TDs in his six games, but also eight interceptions.
Pryor is even worse in terms of touchdowns-to-interceptions: five TD passes and 11 interceptions. The former Ohio State star is, however, big (6-5, 230), elusive and fast (a 4.38 clocking in the 40) and he has to his credit this season a 93-yard touchdown run.
Pryor is not Manning, Brees or Tom Brady in terms of pocket presence and passing accuracy. He does, however, have 527 yards rushing, averaging 7.1-yards per carry. Think Tim Tebow without the paparazzi.
Much has been made of Denver needing to establish a pass rush as the playoffs near, but today is the day for Bronco defenders to stay in their lanes and keep Pryor in the pocket. He is not going to beat the Broncos with his arm.
If the Raiders are to be in this game, they are going to have to find a way to slow the Denver offense. It happened two weeks ago with the Chargers. It could happen today.
But it won’t.
Denver simply has too many weapons for the Raiders to match up with.
Manning’s current big threesome of receivers, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas, will continue to pile up the TDs and Knowshon Moreno, the team’s true unsung hero, will rush for close to 100 yards to go about the business of adding to his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
Denver 34, Oakland 20.
And then bring on the bye week, followed by a home playoff game against Kansas City, or Indianapolis, or …