Tis the season for… the end of the season. The end of the regular season, that is. Hopes of home-field advantage may be a thing of the past, but the Broncos are set to take on the rival-Raiders with a first-round bye on the line.
Both teams come into this game with vastly different offenses. The Raiders for example, have a team that can actually win a game or two. In fact, the Oakland team has won three out of their last five games against pretty good teams. Derek Carr is going to be a good quarterback for them at some point. Give that kid a year or two with a legitimate offensive line and you suddenly have a team contending for the AFC West title. With Manning and Rivers both out of the game in the next few years, nothing but Alex Smith standing in their way and the Chiefs have a proven track record of just how atrocious a football team can be, year after year. I see the Raiders back into contention in 2016 and a good Oakland team is good for football. Granted, this is from the same guy that has said the Rockies will make the playoffs the next three out of five years…..
The Broncos also have a different offense verses when they first met the Raiders in week 10. After the following week’s loss to St Louis, John Elway made very specific directives to the coaching staff and Peyton Manning in particular. Focusing on a more balanced run/pass ratio the Broncos have one loss in their last five games. Manning has 15 interceptions going into the final week of the regular season with six in his last three games alone. A high point since becoming a Denver Bronco.
Manning also hasn’t passed the eye test lately. His duck passes are even duckier and for the first time since I’ve been watching him, he’s throwing into double/triple coverage. Some mental mistakes have been made by the man and it’s difficult to tell if he’s getting older like me or having ginormous defensive linemen dancing around him is dictating his actions. An offensive line that I believe will be the root reason why the Bronco’s don’t go to the Superbowl.
Manning has absolutely destroyed Oakland in his five games against them as a Bronco. Which is a very good sign, there is no reason Manning won’t have 400 yards passing with three touchdowns. As long as he lays off the picks and bad decisions and I’ll be happy with Peyton’s performance. There is no doubt that Oakland, which had some pass rush success against the Bills, will try the same thing to Denver. Khalil Mack, (Defensive rookie of the year candidate), Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith are all legit pass rushers and the Broncos will have to run the ball to diminish the straight pass rushes. With both CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman expected to play, there is no reason the Broncos don’t run the ball for at least 100 yards.
The Raiders offense has been more efficient in the last several games, particularly last week against a highly-ranked Buffalo Bills defense. “I just think we’re playing better football,” said T Donald Penn. “We’re still working as hard as we’ve been working all year. It just seems like stuff is starting to fall in place and starting to go our way a little bit better the past couple of weeks, and we have some momentum going, so hopefully we can use that going against a good Denver team that’s coming off a loss. You know they’re going to give us their best shot, so we keep that momentum going and take it into this offseason, that’ll be good, and a big key going into next year.”
Part of Oakland’s success has come from their ability to get the run game going. “[Latavius Murray] got good production,” said Coach Fox. “He looks like he has good size. It’s a good one-two punch with he and [Darren] McFadden, [Maurice Jones-Drew] in there. You have a group that brings a lot of different looks to you. I think Oakland is committed to running the ball.” The Broncos have Brandon Marshall out this week, a huge loss for the Bronco’s defense but TJ Ward is expected to play this week and will have to take up some slack for those outside runs that Denver got burnt on last week. The Bronc’s linebackers look exactly like what they are last week, rookies. Missed tackles and not playing their position properly lost that game as much and Manning’s four interceptions did.
What to look for:
The Denver Broncos can earn a first round bye week and the number two playoffs seed with a win versus the Raiders, OR a Bengals loss, OR a Bengals tie + a Colts win. If Denver closes out its regular season with a win against Oakland and improve to 8-0 at home they will record the sixth perfect home record in team history. The Broncos are the only NFL team to rank in the Top 5 in both total offense (4th / 399.7 ypg) and total defense (3rd / 312.3 ypg). LB Von Miller(48 career sacks), needs a sack to tie Richard Dent for the sixth-most sacks (49) in NFL history through a player’s first four seasons. WR Emmanuel Sanders (95 receptions, 1,331 yards in ‘14), needs three receptions to tie Mike Furrey (2006) and Randy Moss (2007), for the fifth-most catches in NFL history by a player with a new team and needs 53 receiving yards to tie Bobby Mitchell (1962) and Vincent Jackson (2012) for the fifth-most receiving yards in NFL history by a player with a new team. WR Demaryius Thomas, (1,504 receiving yards in ‘14), needs 98 receiving yards to time Rod Smith, (2000), for the most receiving yards in a single season. (1,602) CB Aqib Talib, (27 career INTs), needs an interception to pass Tramon Williams for the second-most interceptions by a cornerback since he entered the NFL in 2008. TE Julius Thomas, (12 receiving TDs in ‘14), needs one receiving touchdown to set a career high and two scores to tie Anthony Miller, (1995), and Demaryius Thomas, (2013), for the most receiving touchdowns in a single season in franchise history. DE Demarcus Ware, (127 career sacks), needs one sack to tie Ricky Jackson for 13th on NFL’s all-time sack list.
With Denver’s defense banged up I see this as a higher scoring game than most think. The Bronco’s absolutely need a bye week to heal up and they get it. Denver wins 48-34.
Credits: ESPN, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, pro-football-reference.com