Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders: 5 Storylines to Watch
For the Broncos, this is an important game. It's simple—if the Broncos win, they're in as the AFC's No. 1 seed. If they lose and the New England Patriots win their game versus the Buffalo Bills, then New England becomes the conference's top seed with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
For the Raiders, it's another lost season in a decade of misery—2013 will mark the 11th straight non-winning season for Oakland. About the only reason the Raiders have to look forward to this game is playing the spoiler role versus their AFC West rivals.
The Broncos have a No. 1 seed to play for, while the Raiders have the opportunity to ruin Denver's opportunity at clinching the AFC's top seed. What are five storylines to watch in this Sunday's game?
The AFC's Top Seed
It is of the utmost importance that the Broncos don't take the Raiders lightly.
Denver enters this game as double-digit favorites (-12.5 points) versus a team they have not lost to since Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season. NFL records are at stake, with Peyton Manning threatening several more passing records, while the offense is due to break several records of its own.
The Broncos are considered the class of the AFC—the Raiders are one of the worst teams in the conference.
Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor—who started the first game between the two teams in Oakland's 37-21 loss in Denver—will be making his first start for Oakland since Week 10. Early on in the season, the Raiders had much success running the read-option attack with Pryor and running back Darren McFadden.
The Broncos outmatch the Raiders in every conceivable category pertaining to talent level and actual play on the field.
It is up to the Broncos to take care of business on Sunday versus a very overmatched team.
Terrelle Pryor and the Read-Option Attack
Speaking of Terrelle Pryor, the Broncos should have no problem in matching up with Pryor's ability to run and pass.
It was only earlier this season that the Broncos slowed Oakland's read-option attack. In that Week 3 meeting, the Broncos run defense held Pryor to just 36 yards rushing after the quarterback had accumulated 162 yards rushing over the first two weeks of the season.
It was even worse for Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who was held to just 12 yards on nine carries just a week after rushing for 129 yards in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2.
Over the last several weeks since Pryor was demoted for quarterback Matt McGloin, Oakland had rid itself of the read-option attack—with Pryor back in the mix, expect coach Dennis Allen to institute the read-option attack back into the fold due to the quarterback change.
The only difference between now and Week 3's loss to the Broncos is that Oakland will now split carries between Rashad Jennings and McFadden.
The Raiders rank 25th in points per game. The Broncos will have no excuses if they can't slow down Oakland's running attack.
Adjusting After Injuries
Linebacker Von Miller was placed on injured reserve this week with a torn ACL. Receiver Wes Welker has been ruled out due to a concussion, while defensive end Derek Wolfe has been declared out for his fifth consecutive game due to illness. Cornerback Kayvon Webster is questionable after surgery on his right thumb.
Which means this—the Broncos are going to have to adjust on the fly again.
Denver went the first six games of the season without Miller due to suspension—and they went undefeated.
Broncos franchise cornerback Champ Bailey has missed all but three games this year—and the Broncos stand at 12-3 with an opportunity to claim the AFC's best record on Sunday.
It has been a season of injuries and absences for key cogs of the Broncos' starting lineup, and the Broncos have endured every step of the way.
Andre Caldwell will step in for Welker. Guys like Jeremy Mincey will help fill the absence of Wolfe. Paris Lenon and Nate Irving will have to fill the void of Denver's biggest playmaker on defense.
The Broncos have excelled all season long despite injuries and adversity. Week 17 at Oakland will be yet another chance for the Broncos to display their resiliency.
Coach Dennis Allen
Former Broncos defensive coordinator and current Raiders head coach Dennis Allen might find himself without a job following the conclusion of Sunday's game versus the Broncos.
After being hired away from Denver by Oakland following the 2011 season, Allen has accumulated an 8-23 record (.258 winning percentage) with the Raiders.
The Raiders have shown zero improvement under Allen and regressed from an 8-8 team in 2011 to a 4-12 team in 2012. Oakland with either finish the 2013 season at 4-12 or 5-11.
To make matters worse, Allen finds himself in an odd situation on the subject of quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor's agent Jerome Stanley accused Allen of "setting [Pryor] up to fail," per Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area.
Allen responded to those claims earlier in the week, per Levi Damien of SB Nation:
First, I'd say that's the stupidest thing I've ever friggin' heard. No coach in their right mind ... This isn't The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. This isn't made-for-TV drama. This is football. We make our football decisions based solely on that, nothing other than that. So I don't really give it a lot of thought. I can't control the ignorance that might come out of somebody else's mouth, but I've talked to Terrelle about it. It's in situations like that you have to separate the player from the agent. He doesn't have control. I don't have control over those things that get said. In my book, it's really nothing. It's one person's opinion and I've moved on from it and ready to focus on the Broncos.
Although Sunday's game will be centered around the Broncos and their quest to gain home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, the Raiders themselves will have some things to handle following the conclusion of the regular season.
The objective at hand in Sunday's game versus the Raiders is obviously a victory. But there is no doubt one of the storylines during Sunday's game will be the 2013 Denver Broncos and their place in NFL record books.
Quarterback Peyton Manning is on the verge of breaking the NFL's single-season passing yardage mark, a week after breaking the NFL record for touchdowns in a single season. Manning needs just 266 passing yards versus Oakland in order to break Drew Brees' record of 5,476 passing yards in one season. Manning also needs just 19 completions to best Brees' mark of 468 completions also set in the 2011 season.
If the Broncos are able to score 18 points in Week 17, Denver will break the single-season mark for points scored by a team, set by the 2007 New England Patriots with 589 points.
The goal in Week 17 will be to secure home-field advantage, but it will no doubt be a time for Broncos fans to reflect on just how dominant their team has been on offense during the 2013 season.