First and foremost one thing is true, the NFL and its pundits have seriously underestimated the Raiders. Sure, there has been a huge turn around as far as player-personnel is concerned, but this had to happen in order to bring in better players. Better players may not be the best description, more like players who actually want to put forth the effort to earn a paycheck. For too long the Raiders had players that were just there to collect the big salary from Al Davis and the Raiders. Now, the players must show General Manager Reggie McKenzie that they want to play in order to earn their salary.
While the Broncos have destroyed their last two opponents (Baltimore Ravens & New York Giants), the Raiders have fought hard to earn their way back into the .500 circle against their two opponents (Indianapolis Colts & Jacksonville Jaguars). Now, there are those that believe that the Broncos haven’t faced a very strong defense yet. Remember, the Ravens lost most of their premiere defensive players to Free Agency, and the Giants injuries and age have slowed them down. Of course, the Raiders had their fair share of unwarranted turnovers in the game against the Colts, and this was the reason the game was lost to them. In the NFL’s eyes, this game is going to be a true David Vs. Goliath game. The Raiders enter into this game being ranked between 26th and 28th in the league (ESPN/NFL), and the Broncos are ranked among the top two teams. However, this is a rivalry game, and anything can happen.
The Raiders have been stuffing their opponents rushing game while the Broncos have been trying to establish theirs. This is going to be an advantage for the Raiders. By stopping the rushing game of the Broncos, the Raiders will force Peyton Manning to sit in the pocket and throw the ball. As Manning is not the most mobile of quarterbacks, this will also be a plus for the Raiders. Not only has the rushing defense improved, but the pass rushing has placed the Raiders among the leaders in defensive sacks (9 in two games). With the Broncos loss of their left tackle, the advantage is beginning to swing in favor of a defensive battle.
On the flip side of things, Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor is very mobile, and he has the ability to extend plays with his feet. The Broncos are going to need to account for Pryor’s abilities while trying to keep the receivers at bay. However, Darren McFadden is beginning to get his feet under him again in the power rushing game, and he has had very good games against the Broncos defense in the past. Although many would call this game a win for the Broncos, I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as expected.
This is going to be a very good test for the Raiders. It’s a Divisional game that has huge meaning in the long run of this season. If the Raiders can pull out an upset in Denver, their chances at winning the AFC West or making it into the Wild Card are greatly increased. It’s going to be exciting to see how the Raiders secondary will react to the dominant passing game that Manning and the Broncos wield. That is where this game will be won or lost.