The Denver Broncos face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in a key divisional game. Both teams enter the game at 1-2 and the loser of Sunday’s game is really behind the eight ball in the AFC West. Expectations were and still are high for the Broncos, but another home loss would put a big damper on those high hopes. It’s no secret that these two teams do not like each other and their disdain goes all the way back to the AFL days. It’s a great rivalry and it’s a big game, which sounds like a lot of fun.
The Broncos’ offense should be able to get on track this week because the Raiders struggle versus the pass and are really thin in the secondary. They are giving up more 260 passing yards per game and now they have safeties playing cornerback. The Broncos have struggled at times when throwing the football in the first three games, but they have faced three top 10 defenses versus the pass. The Raiders rank in the bottom 10 and Peyton Manning has to be licking his chops.
In addition to the beat up secondary, the Raiders are not rushing the passer well at all. In short, Manning should have time to throw and he should have open receivers. Sunday’s game is also an opportunity for Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas to break out, but if they struggle to get open versus the Raiders, then questions will have to be asked.
The passing game will be open, but the Broncos have to get the running game going with Willis McGahee. The Raiders are decent versus the run, but even a bad pass defense is going to be better if they do not have to respect the run. Look for Manning and the Broncos to throw early to get out in front and then pound the Raiders with the running game later in the game.
Just as the Raiders will have a challenge in stopping Manning, the Broncos face a huge task in stopping the run. Darren McFadden is finally healthy and when that’s the case, he is one of the best backs in football. McFadden is powerful, fast and the Raiders’ best player.
Making that even tougher is the fact that middle linebacker Joe Mays is suspended. Mays is the Broncos’ best linebacker versus the run and his presence will be missed on Sunday. The Broncos’ primary goal has to be to at least slow down McFadden and force the Raiders to throw. A good way to do that is to jump out to 10 or 14 point lead because that takes away some of the running threat of the Raiders.
The Raiders can throw and Carson Palmer is looking more and more comfortable, but if he is forced to beat the Broncos by dropping back forty times, then the Broncos would have to like their chances. Yes, they have given up some big plays in the passing game but Palmer, a good quarterback, is not in the elite class. He holds onto the ball too long at times and will force it if he feels pressure.
The Raiders are also likely to be without starting receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who left last week’s game with a concussion and neck injury. The Raiders do have some other quality receivers, particularly Denarius Moore. The Raiders’ best chance on Sunday is to get McFadden going in the running game and then let Palmer work the play-action game.
The Raiders leading receiver is tight-end Brandon Myers and that has to scare the Broncos and their fans. The defense has been burned by the tight-end play over the first three games and their linebackers are even thinner now without Mays. There’s no doubt that the Raiders have seen that on film and will look to get Myers involved early and often.
The Denver Broncos need to get off to a fast start, something they have not done yet this season. Sunday is only a dangerous game if the Raiders are able to hang around early and get the game to the fourth quarter. If the Broncos can reverse their early season trend and jump out to a two score lead, then they should roll to an easy win. The Broncos have a chance in this game to figure some things out and should be able to use this game as a spring board, but will they?
Yes, I believe they will! My prediction: 31-14 Broncos.
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