The Oakland Raiders travel to Denver this week for a matchup that––despite featuring two sub-500 ball clubs––could be pivotal in determining the outcome of the AFC West.
Despite starting 1-2, the Raiders and Broncos still have very real, very ambitious hopes of securing a home playoff game this postseason. And with the division-leading Chargers heading to the hostile grounds of Arrowhead to take on the frisky Chiefs, this game could very well vault the winner into a three-way tie for first place. That would, of course, also mean that the loser could wake up on Monday alone in the cellar.
The Raiders are riding high after getting their first win last week over Pittsburgh, who, coincidentally, also happens to be the only team Denver has beaten this year.
Should be a good one.
Current Line: Broncos -7
This game opened at -6.5, a number that wiseguys jumped all over, pushing it up to the key number of 7. Were you lucky enough to get the points before that shift, you might have a fruitful ticket in your pocket. If not, this game becomes a whole lot more complicated.
Even at home and even against the Raiders, seven points is a lot to lay in the NFL. I think we can all agree that the talent gap between Baltimore and Cleveland is wider than the gap between Denver and Oakland, yes? Well, Baltimore would have pushed a seven-point spread in their 23-16 triumph last night (as it stood, they failed to cover their double-digit spread). For comparison's sake, the Atlanta-Carolina line is also -7––another game where the talent gap is far wider than this one.
Denver has looked hapless the past two weeks, getting pummeled by the Falcons and the Texans. They're a good bet straight up, but it's hard to see them covering a touchdown against a scrappy––albeit impotent––Raiders team.
Take the points.
Prediction 1: Points Will Be at a Premium
Yes, every Broncos' total has gone over 48 this season. And yes, the Raiders have given up 30+ points in consecutive weeks. And yes, Shawntae Spencer will be on the field. I still think this has all the makings of a physical, low-scoring and, to be honest, kind of boring affair.
Denver's offense is far worse than their total output numbers indicate. They've fallen way behind in the past two games, only racking up a respectable point total thanks to pass-heavy, backdoor scoring. Peyton Manning's arm, once thought to be indelibly infallible, has looked like a soggy noodle. His mind still allows him to be effective, but his body is replacement level––at best. Throw in the injured Willis McGahee (Knowshon Moreno sighting!) and you have an offense in disarray.
The defense, however, has been known to rise to the occasion. Seeing their depleted offense struggle will galvanize the unit, forcing them to up their level of play. Oakland flashed signs of having latent offensive potential against Pittsburgh, but playing on the road is a whole different ball game (see what I did there?).
The over/under is set at 49. Bet the under.
Prediction 2: Darren McFadden Will Put Up Fantasy Numbers
Forget everything I just said.
Just kidding. The game will be low scoring, but that doesn't mean McFadden won't light it up yardage-wise for your fantasy team. With Broncos MLB Joe Mays suspended––with good reason––the middle of the Broncos defense should be susceptible to the run.
McFadden suffered a shoulder scare this week, but he was back at practice Friday. Beat writer Steve Corkran described his shoulder as merely "bruised" before harping that it "is not a concern" at all.
Arian Foster gashed Denver for 105 yards last week and that was with the run-stuffing Mays patrolling the middle. Run DMC has a chance to surpass those numbers.
Prediction 3: Broncos 20, Raiders 16
As alluded to earlier, I won't exactly be rushing to change the channel to this one. But, if you like hard-nosed, sloppy football this could be the place for you!
Unlike their NFC counterpart––who has met, surpassed and tap-danced on the corpse of expectations––the Western division of the AFC has been one of the league's most banal in 2012. Desperate for a team to emerge as a true favorite, this game does have plenty of stakes.
Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer will butt heads in a battle of over-the-hill, former top overall draft picks. The QB who has the most left in the tank should be able to will his team to victory. I'm going with Manning, by default, because...well...he's Peyton freakin' Manning.
But as a bettor, I'm staying as far away from this game as possible.