After two consecutive losses, the Denver Broncos are looking a lot like the Denver Broncos of 2011, and not much like the hype that surrounded them going into 2012.
In Week 4, the Broncos host the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and look to bring their record back to an even standing.
It's been a toss-up deciding whether or not to start Broncos like Peyton Manning and Willis McGahee in fantasy leagues this year. Some tough defenses paved the way for Denver through three weeks.
This week, Denver faces a defense that's not quite up to par with its previous three opponents.
Not to be taken lightly, the Oakland Raiders have played seriously tough opponents themselves so far in this young season, but it seems like maybe this will be a less difficult game for Manning and his offense in Week 4.
Here, we'll take a look at the stat projections for Denver's starters and a few of their key reserves against Oakland. Maybe afterwards, the choice to put Manning and company in your fantasy lineup won't be so hard to make.
Willis McGahee is coming off of a rib injury suffered during Denver's last outing against the Houston Texans.
Needless to say, his projections for the week aren't great.
McGahee participated in practice fully on Thursday and has been fully activated for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders are currently the 20th ranked rushing defense in the NFL allowing 116.3 yards per game. McGahee is averaging only 71 yards per game against his first three opponents of the game including only half a game played against Houston, and 113 yards in one game against the Falcons.
A bad rushing defense against an average rusher; so far. Normally, it would mean some pretty respectable totals for the running back, but coming off of an injury means trouble for McGahee.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection: 49 RUSH YDS, 6 REC YDS, 2-PT
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: 17 RUSH YDS, 1 REC YD
I'm willing to give McGahee a bit more credit against a poor defense. But he won't be lights out on Sunday morning.
My Fantasy Projection: 85 RUSH YDS, 15 REC YDS, 1 TD.
Demaryius Thomas is coming forward as Peyton Manning's favorite target this season. That is, at least, until his very evident absence against the Houston Texans in Week 3.
There won't be a repeat performance from Thomas in Week 4.
Against the 26th ranked passing defense in the league, Thomas is sure to shred some turf and leave the secondary in his rear-view mirror. The Oakland Raiders have allowed an average of 264.7 yards against the pass in their first three games this season.
Eric Decker had a nice day on the field against Houston in the Broncos' loss in Week 3, but Denver's win in Week 4 will come with a helping hand from a huge day from Thomas on the other end of the field.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection: 122 YDS, 1 TD
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: 72 YDS, 1 TD
There seems to be a consensus that Thomas will find the endzone in Week 4. What's not sure is how many times he'll make it there.
Thomas is primed to go big like Calvin Johnson against Oakland's porous pass defense in Week 4.
My Fantasy Projection: 145 YDS, 2 TD
Eric Decker's emergence in Week 3 as a big target for Peyton Manning is keeping everyone guessing as to who will end up as Denver's No. 1 receiver for the 2012 season.
Decker ran off 136 yards against the Texans without finding the endzone last week. While Thomas was almost useless facing a double team for the majority of the evening.
Against the Oakland Raiders, Decker will surely thrive, but his yards won't stay consistent with his last performance. With Thomas looking to run over and through Oakland's secondary, it's going to be hard for Decker to get Manning's attention.
He still remains a serious threat in the middle of the field with Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme, so he's not a bust by any means this week. I would expect him to take on a more Wes Welker type role, catching short passes and doing what he can to make big plays in the open field while remaining a secondary threat for a deep pass.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection: 84 YDS, 1 TD
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: 84 YDS, 1 TD
As I've already made clear, this game should turn out to be an air show for the Denver Broncos' offense. Decker will certainly have his share as he moves back into his No. 2 spot in the depth chart.
My Fantasy Projection: 105 YDS, 0 TD
Peyton Manning should, like any good quarterback, utilize his tight ends against a unit with so many holes in its passing defense.
As for stats, there won't be many. But I expect that Jacob Tamme would be his go-to guy, given their history together in the league.
Neither of Manning's tight ends have had a huge impact in the passing game as of yet this season, although they have been responsible for two of Denver's touchdown scores. This week, with the passing game poised to play havoc on Oakland's secondary, they may get their chance to put down some respectable yardage and contribute to the game.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection : Tamme - 37 YDS
Dreessen - 12 YDS
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: Tamme - 36 YDS, 1 TD
Dreessen - 18 YDS
An average projection across the board is just about right for these two this week. But I'd expect a score from at least one of them considering Manning's still-growing chemistry with his top receivers in the redzone.
My Fantasy Projection: Tamme - 45 YDS, 1 TD
Dreessen - 15 YDS
Each and every week, the Denver defense has faced a great passing quarterback. This week is no different as Carson Palmer brings his Oakland Raiders offense to town.
Palmer is by no means an elite passer, but so far in 2012 his offense is averaging 283 yards a game through the air and has scored five touchdowns. Accompanied by his high yardage and touchdowns, he's also thrown two picks. That's not a lot compared to the guy he's playing against this Sunday morning.
In Denver's secondary resides one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game. And with him is a crew of young, underachieving players that have yet to play consistent football in the league; especially in 2012.
They're shoring up the middle of the league as far as yards against with an average of 233 yards per game, but the stat that jumps out is the eight touchdowns allowed through the air in only three games.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, this defense gave away the scores on short fields, and against the Houston Texans they gave up the big plays on critical downs.
On the other hand, the rushing defense for these Denver Broncos has done a better job, but not by a lot. Allowing 98 yards per game is enough to earn them a spot at No. 13 compared to the rest of the NFL, but not enough to consider them an elite rushing defense.
Neither unit will get a break in Week 4 when Palmer and Darren McFadden get rolling. This could easily turn into a shootout, which Oakland finds itself very familiar with after last week's showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection: 3 SACKS, 2 INT, 12 PA, 351 YA
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: 21 PA, 338 YA
A shootout is never good for a defense's stat projection, and that won't change this week.
My Fantasy Projection: 4 SACKS, 1 INT, 24 PA, 380 YA
Do you start Peyton Manning? Do you sit him? Will he throw three interceptions in a quarter again? Or will he throw 300 yards and three touchdowns?
It's impossible to know for sure, but Denver's matchup with the Oakland Raiders on Sunday morning looks very favorable for Manning and his recovering arm strength.
As previously stated, the Raiders are allowing 264 yards per game through the air, and Manning will certainly exploit this weakness.
His receivers are all threats in their own ways. Demaryius Thomas has size and strength, Eric Decker has speed and agility, Brandon Stokley has years of experience as Manning's slot option and Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen have already notched a touchdown on each of their stat sheets in this young season.
Behind Manning is Willis McGahee, also lining up on his side in the shotgun. McGahee has already proved that he can be the anchor for the Denver offense when the passing game isn't there when he ran for 113 yards and 2 scores against the Atlanta Falcons.
Now he'll get to prove that he can also play as Manning's support in the passing game, his main blitz blocker and an effective runner against a weak rushing defense.
All of Manning's tools are in place, his arm has been proven, now it's just up to him to throw the right balls and keep the bad ones out of the hands of the Raiders defense.
NFL.com Fantasy Projection: 274 YDS, 2 TD
ESPN.com Fantasy Projection: 284 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT
Manning will look after Week 4 like he did on his run to his one and only Super Bowl Championship in 2004 with the Colts.
My Fantasy Projection: 335 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT