Even if they weren't the Raiders—the second-worst team in the AFC West and one of the worst teams in the AFC overall—Manning could still be expected to dominate them. That's what he does at this point in the season. And over the course of the last seven weeks, that's all he's been doing.
In the first five weeks of 2012, Manning's Broncos were 2-3, and Manning was on the verge of entering bust territory. It just goes to show how pointless it is to judge a team based on the first few weeks of the season (and just look to Philadelphia and Arizona for further evidence!). Now, the Broncos have run away with the division, and Manning is a leading candidate for 2012 MVP.
This season, Manning ranks second in the league in passer rating. His 29 touchdown passes are tied for second in the league, his 3,502 passing yards put him in the top 10 and he's only thrown nine interceptions. Moreover, he's taken charge of this team and put them in prime position for a deep playoff run, which is something many people expected he wouldn't be able to do when he first signed with Denver in April.
And now, over the last four weeks of the season, Denver only has one remotely challenging game remaining. It's basically a breeze from here on out, and that starts on Thursday at Oakland.
The 3-9 Raiders haven't won a game since facing Kansas City in Week 8. Their offense has averaged 14.7 points over their last three games, while their defense has allowed an average of 31—and it's not like they've been playing the top teams, either. The last three have come against New Orleans, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
There's also the fact that Oakland ranks 28th in the league in defense, which doesn't bode well with one of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks coming to town this week.
Over his last three games, Manning has thrown for 797 yards and eight touchdowns with an average completion percentage of 63.4. Granted, his last three games have come against the Buccaneers, the Chiefs and the Chargers—but it's not like the Raiders present more of a challenge than those teams did.
He has the Broncos on the complete opposite trajectory from the Raiders: This team hasn't lost since it faced New England in Week 5, and since that loss, it has put up fewer than 30 points just once.
Does Manning deserve to be 2012 MVP?
The last time these two teams faced each other on Sept. 30, Manning threw for 338 yards and three TDs with zero picks in a lopsided win. And that was in Week 4, when this team barely had an identity, and when Manning was still in the midst of his first month back in the league after missing the entirety of 2011.
In short, he's going to be just as scary this time around.
The Broncos' road to the playoffs is looking pretty pleasant at the moment, but at the same time, Manning knows that more he keeps winning, the better the odds that Denver ends up with a more favorable matchup. He sees an opportunity in Oakland this week, and you can be sure he's going to take full and complete advantage of it.
Projection: 340 yards, 3 TDS