Two bitter division rivals are set to square off on “Sunday Night Football” with a lot more than an AFC West tiebreaker on the line as the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos head to Oakland looking to stop a red-hot Raiders squad. Each has proved to be a team set to make noise come playoff time so far this season — in vastly different ways — and it should make for a fun game in a rocking black hole.
The Broncos, of course, haven’t missed a beat on defense since hoisting that Lombardi Trophy earlier in the year. They’re tied for the NFL lead in sacks and have allowed more than 20 points just twice through the first half of the season. Von Miller has earned every penny of that massive extension and even quarterback Trevor Siemian has not been the Achilles heel at quarterback that many believed he would be.
His numbers pale in comparison to Derek Carr’s however, who is second in the league in passing attempts, fifth in yards and third in touchdowns. Just as impressive is the fact that he’s been relatively untouched in the pocket and thrown only three interceptions in leading the Raiders to a 6-2 record few saw coming. He’s been a big part of the team’s success because the once-solid defense hasn’t quite picked up from where it was last year but things have gotten better the past few games as Khalil Mack and company have started to get going.
Denver has gotten the best of this matchup over the years and won eight of the last nine. The Broncos have been dominant in the division itself (just seven losses in five years) and certainly have been able to push over their rival in Oakland as a result, but this is a lot different Raiders team than years past.
Denver at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Raiders -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Strength meets strength
The Broncos love to get after the passer. The Raiders’ offensive line has proven to be one of the better ones in the NFL. It’s safe to say that both meeting in the trenches will be the driving force in determining a winner in this clash. While Von Miller is one of the biggest names in the game, he’s been helped out by Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Ware and physical safety T.J. Ward among others. Luckily for the home team, if anybody knows how to scheme around that fearsome pass rush, it’s probably Denver’s former defensive coordinator turned Oakland head coach in Jack Del Rio.
2. Quarterback disparity
In terms of quarterback mismatches, it’s hard to find a bigger disparity than in this game. Derek Carr is setting records left and right and has entered the MVP discussion at the halfway point of the season thanks to the amount of yards and points he’s pilling up for a team that is in the thick of the division race. His opposite number Trevor Siemian, meanwhile, plays more of a caretaker role for the Broncos’ offense — hand the ball off, use play action, avoid turnovers and work the middle of the field. He’s got some speedy weapons on the outside of course and finding guys like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders down the field for big plays will be something to track as they look to keep pace with the Raiders.
3. Turnover battle
In a game closely matched like this one, turnovers are naturally going to play a huge role. Denver’s defense has been ball-hawkish in the back with its secondary and gotten plenty strip sacks with the edge rushers this season, not exactly surprising given the personnel the Broncos are able to trot out onto the field. Oakland will need to protect the ball on offense (only six turnovers in eight games) and continue to be opportunistic on defense (No. 4 in the NFL in turnover margin). Denver’s penchant for turning the ball over has been balanced out by an ability to create some on the defensive end but things won’t be so easy against a good team on the road like in this matchup.
It’s been a long, long time in this great NFL rivalry since a Denver/Oakland meeting carried this much weight for both teams. Each enters with the same 6-2 record and is looking to not only keep pace in the AFC West, but also with the New England Patriots for home-field advantage in the conference. While there will be an end-of-the-season rematch at Mile High, this undoubtedly is a tone-setting game for both teams in the division that could be a big boost in the second half of the year.
Denver enters with some momentum after beating the Chargers in a wild one last Sunday and throttling the Texans a week before that. The defense is among the best in the league just like it was last year and the offense surprisingly hasn’t missed a beat despite the retirement of Peyton Manning and a number of injuries at tailback. This isn’t a team that is going to get involved in any shootout but the defending Super Bowl champs do know a thing or two about finding ways to win no matter how the game is going.
On the flip side, Oakland has been leaning on its offense to win games after a slow start by a defense that has plenty of talent but hasn’t played like it. Things have picked up lately but probably not to the level that Jack Del Rio would like, especially when you factor in the incredible number of penalties the team has been picking up (including that NFL-record 24 last week in the overtime win against Tampa Bay).
The sum of all those parts should result in a close, hard-fought game between bitter rivals. It’s been a while since the Raiders have been the talk of the Bay Area, but they will be by the end of tonight.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Broncos 24
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.