Coming off a stunning victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders have found hope in the form of running back Darren McFadden.
As for the Denver Broncos, they have lost their last two games to the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans after a strong season-opening win over the Steelers.
Some concerns about Peyton Manning's arm strength are beginning to crop up, some wondering whether his neck surgeries in the offseason could limit him moving forward.
Here's a look at the divisional clash on Sunday in Denver.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
When: Sunday, Sept. 30 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Broncos -6.5, Over/Under 47.5, via ScoresAndOdds.com
What's At Stake?
As a divisional matchup, this game obviously holds a little more weight.
The Raiders, who lost their season-opener to the San Diego Chargers, haven't won the AFC West since they captured the AFC in the 2002 season.
Last season, they lost the division via a tiebreaker to the Broncos. The Broncos, Raiders and Chargers went 8-8, but Denver won the division based on its record against common opponents (6-6).
The Raiders went 1-1 against the Broncos last season.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
WR Juron Criner - Ankle - Questionable
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey - Head - OUT indefinitely
OT Khalif Barnes - Groin - OUT indefinitely
CB Ronald Bartell - Shoulder - IR
WR Jacoby Ford - Foot - IR
OT Zach Hurd - Head - IR
TE Jacob Tamme - Groin - Probable
WR Matthew Willis - Hamstring - Questionable
CB Tracy Porter - Knee - Questionable
RB Willis McGahee - Ribs - Questionable
LB Nate Irving - Head - Doubtful
RB Mario Fannin - Achille - OUT for season
C Philip Blake - Thumb - IR
DT Ty Warren - Tricep - IR
DE Jeremy Beal - Knee - IR
LB Jason Hunter - Tricep - IR
What They're Saying
When you get kicked around in the AFC West for several years, it's just as much about changing the culture in the locker room as it is developing as a team.
After the Raiders' 34-31 victory over the Steelers in Week 3, it was revealed that first-year head coach Dennis Allen gave an inspirational speech to the squad before the game.
According to Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group, Allen presented each member of the team with a wooden bat. Inscribed on the bats were the words, "Raiders vs. Steelers, Sept. 23, 2012" and the quote, "Bring the Wood."
That may seem like something out of a Disney movie, but, hey, apparently it worked. I guess you could say the Raiders are tired of getting batted around.
As for the Broncos, middle linebacker Joe Mays has been suspended for Sunday's game after a brutal hit on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in Week 3.
Given linebacker Nate Irving was knocked unconscious against the Texans, that means the Broncos may have to shuffle the linebacking corps, as Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post noted. Wesley Woodyard, Keith Brooking and Von Miller could see time at middle linebacker, with rookies Danny Trevathan and Steven Johnson possibly in the equation as well.
The Broncos have allowed just 3.3 yards per carry so far this season, sixth in the NFL. It's going to be interesting if the run defense holds its ground against McFadden and Co. without Mays.
Raiders Player to Watch: Darren McFadden, RB
After a lackluster first two weeks in which McFadden rushed for a combined 54 yards, the fifth-year back exploded for 113 yards and a touchdown on the ground in Week 3 against the Steelers.
There had been concerns about the running game going into Week 3, with questions surrounding the zone-blocking scheme and whether McFadden was the same after his foot injury last season.
Those concerns have disappeared—at least for now. McFadden, as always, is a vital part of Oakland's attack. Beyond the potential to score points for the Raiders, McFadden also could help Oakland win the time-of-possession battle, which will certainly be beneficial matched up against Manning and Co.
Broncos Player to Watch: Peyton Manning, QB
Speaking of Manning, the supreme optimism about the future Hall of Famer following Week 1 has slowly subsided.
Yes, Manning threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans, but he also completed just 50 percent of his passes while averaging a mediocre 6.3 yards per attempt.
With the Raiders' secondary banged up, I expect Manning to go to the air once again. Ben Roethlisberger went 36-of-49 for 384 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland in Week 3.
Key Matchup: Raiders Secondary vs. Broncos Passing Attack
The Broncos don't have much of a running game right now, so it's only logical that they would fling the ball against a battered Raiders secondary.
The Raiders have lost both starting cornerbacks, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, for the moment. They are currently starting safety Michael Huff and Joselio Hanson at cornerback. Roethlisberger's numbers last week are evidence enough Huff and Hanson—along with a plethora of other Raiders defenders—didn't get the job done.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Raiders 24
While the Broncos shouldn't have much trouble scoring on the Raiders (running game or not), don't forget that the Raiders put up 34 points last week against the Steelers.
The Raiders' running game has picked up and quarterback Carson Palmer wasn't horrible last week, so that's an improvement. The Broncos have had trouble stopping the pass this season, allowing 7.1 yards per attempt and eight passing touchdowns through three games.
I expect this to be a high-scoring affair, with the Broncos barely edging Oakland in Denver.
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