When you say Oakland Raiders in Denver, it’s on; when you say Denver Broncos in Oakland, you may as well just tell Darth Vader you hate the whole getup. This is a clash of two franchises that have deep roots and hatred towards one another dating back to the old American Football League.
Through it all, the Raiders and Broncos take no greater pleasure than ruining the other franchise's day. The Broncos kept the Raiders from becoming back-to-back champions in the 1977-78 AFC Championship Game. The Raiders have returned the favor to Denver in the first round of the playoffs as well. Perhaps the Oakland Nation has no greater prize on the Denver Broncos than the following three lines:
1. The Raiders have the overall edge historically against the Denver Broncos.
2. The Raiders had a winning record versus John Elway and the Broncos by roughly a two-to-one ratio.
3. Last year's route of the Broncos in Denver was the greatest ever against a Broncos squad at 59-14.
For more years than the Broncos would like to count they were owned by the Raiders until 1977, when it all started to change for good. Since that time, the Broncos have owned the series by a slim margin, no time greater than under Mike Shanahan when the Broncos owned the Raiders by a two-to-one ratio.
Many of these games historically have been decided by a touchdown or less, and a large number of those were a field goal or less.
So what do you need to know for Monday night’s big game in the Mile High City?
These are two different teams than they were just one short year ago. The Broncos really should have been referred to as Josh McDaniels' failed fifth-grade science project the previous season, meaning the immediate history will not affect this game for the most part. There is the damage McDaniels left behind but the Broncos franchise has worked hard to change all of those things and have been successful to date. Denver will be ready to defend the home field with perhaps an air of redemption over last year's debacle.
Oakland’s new head coach was the offensive coordinator last year, so he is very familiar with how Denver was dismantled. The Raiders will continue to run the ball hard, but they might open up the offense a bit as well—it’s the Al Davis way.
With both teams realistically in the middle of the pack, this game is close to a toss-up so let’s get a closer look by breaking it down position by position.
Denver’s new mantra is focusing on the defensive side of the ball more than it has since the Orange Crush era in 1977. This group is lethal, fast and can finally bring the heat like they haven’t in a very long time. Oakland has had a good enough defense to have swept every team in the division last season—that includes the high-flying San Diego Chargers. Don’t forget how much they dominated Denver up front last year in the first matchup as well.
The Broncos have made changes along the defensive line to the point of losing Jabar Gaffney for a player they later had to waive. Defensive tackle starters Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas have been injured so Kevin Vickerson and Brodrick Bunkley will anchor the interior line; this is a big deal for the Broncos defense. They are improved at this position, but not as much as they would like.
Oakland is a balanced team that had no problem running last season, racking up around 250 yards. The Broncos must stop the Oakland run game in order to attack the Raiders.
The Raiders front line match up well against the Broncos offensive line when Denver runs the ball. If the Broncos choose to pass, their pass protection is fairly strong. Rookie tackle Orlando Franklin will be tested at the right offensive tackle position.
The Raiders are running a 4-3 defense and Denver is as well. The Broncos, however, tend to morph or play hybrids based on the situation and their personnel. For the Raiders linebackers to succeed they need to help stop the run game of the Broncos. Their job is slightly easier than the Broncos have in stopping possibly the most lethal one-two punch in the NFL with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
Still, this Broncos group is strong, fast and deep at the linebacker position. Considering some of the issues the Raiders have along their offensive line with three players defecting to Seattle, this is a favorable matchup for Denver.
The Broncos have a veteran corps which features two future NFL Hall of Famers with Brian Dawkins, Andre Goodman and Champ Bailey. The new kid on the block is rookie Rahim Moore out of UCLA who is a real-deal type of safety—very talented.
The Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason to the Eagles; they never seemed intent on signing him to another long-term deal—strange considering he is among the top three corners in the NFL. The secondary now is young and athletic, but only time will tell how well they can stack up.
The kickers are essentially a toss-up, however Matt Prater did miss a few in preseason, albeit very long attempts. Sebastian Janikowski has had accuracy issues over the course of his career but he has probably gotten better with age.
Shane Lechler had the second-highest punt average (47.0) and second-highest net last year for the Raiders. Britton Colquitt had a much shorter net but ranked 10th in average punt yardage (44.6).
The Denver Broncos have one of the league's better returners in Eddie Royal, but since he is a starter, the hope had been that Syd’Quan Thompson would be the guy, but he went on injured reserve after the last preseason game. The Broncos have wrestled with kick coverage since the Mike Shanahan era and it really hasn’t improved through this preseason, so by default...
The Denver Broncos have upgraded their line slightly this season and have a renewed emphasis on the run game. The Raiders have some big holes to fill in their line with TE Zach Miller and longtime guard Robert Gallery now camping in Seattle. Additionally, Oakland has rookie Stefen Wisniewski at center and Cooper Carlisle, a former Bronco but below-average starter. What this means is Denver has a chance defensively to attack Oakland the way they would like.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Brandon Lloyd had a career season with the Broncos last year; Denver has a great corps of young receivers with Eddie Royal and Eric Decker. This group could become a new grouping similar to the old Three Amigos because of their versatility and varying skill sets that will make it tough on defenses. Oakland has great role-playing receivers; they can beat you as a team, but usually won’t do it individually. Still, the Broncos starters are better with more depth at that position.
At tight end, both teams have new starters at those positions; you would probably give a slight edge to Oakland because of Kevin Boss’ experience, but not enough to give them the edge in the passing game.
This is closer this year than last year with Knowshon Moreno improved and Willis McGahee an excellent short-yardage back, something Denver has missed. Throw some possible surprise appearances by Tim Tebow and the run game is in the realm of good.
The Raiders run game is great with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush being home run threats on every play. I do look for Denver to mitigate their success, but it does not eliminate their clear-cut advantage here.
Jason Campbell has emerged into a Broncos killer over the last two seasons with a win in Washington and two with the Raiders last season. Don’t read too much into this one, however—the Broncos will have him schemed correctly this time under John Fox’s defense.
Kyle Orton is improved and receiving a little better protection; he has a solid mind and reads defenses very well. Keep in mind Orton and Brandon Lloyd lead the league in hookups last season. Look for the Oakland secondary to be tested often to open up the run game.
Final Prediction and Breakdown
So if you’re keeping score at home, that is five advantages for both the Raiders and the Broncos with one toss-up in the kick game. For argument's sake, just call the coaches and the staffs a toss-up as well. Ironically enough, these games often come down to a field goal so don’t be surprised if it leans that way.
The Raiders hate the Broncos and the Broncos hate to lose to the Broncos. Last year's game in Denver is gone but not forgotten.
Denver has a better defense than they have had in a very long time, which means they are better defensively than the Oakland Raiders are right now. Look for that to be a central theme on Monday night. The Denver Broncos will surprise a lot of football fans on Monday night by how well they control the tempo of the game. The Raiders have two running backs with Pro Bowl capabilities and that is the Raiders' only hope of controlling the tempo in this affair.
Look for Denver to run blitz and have pressure with their front seven that causes headaches for Raider Nation.
Final Score: Denver Broncos 27, Oakland Raiders 21
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