Broncos-Raiders, the Rivalry Continues

The Denver Broncos, fresh off of a 43-21 loss to the New England Patriots, which saw them not live up to their weekly statistics, are now at 6-2, and behind New England for AFC supremacy as presently constituted.

Nevertheless, with the NFL’s regular season only half over, and the Patriots facing a gauntlet of a schedule including the Lions, Dolphins, Packers and Colts in their next 5 games, one would think the Broncos have a chance to regain the inside track toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

However, as the NFL season has taught us thus far, nothing makes sense as the San Diego Chargers, as an example, downed the defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks in their second game of the season but have been outscored 123-72, giving up 30.75 points in their last four games and going 1-3 in that span, the only win coming against the Oakland Raiders, Denver’s opponent this coming Sunday.

The Broncos trail the Raiders 60-47-2 all-time but have won their last 5 games in the series, outscoring Oakland, 26.8-15.6 on average in those games.

Meanwhile, the punchless Raiders’ offense is among the worst in the NFL, scoring only 16.1 points per contest, 31st in the NFL out of 32 teams, are worst in net yardage amassed, at 288.6 yards, and also run for a league-worst 66.1 yards per game.

Wide receivers Brice Butler and Andre Holmes (17.1 and 16.0 yards per reception, respectively) have shown some glimpses but generally the offense has struggled mightily as the statistics attest. However, young signal-caller, Derek Carr, a rookie from Fresno State, has shown some signs as he is completing 60.7 percent of his passes, good for 11 TD’s and 7 INT’s for a symmetrical 1,711 yards, and analysts, such as NFL Network’s Solomon Wilcots, have said they admire his potential even though the Raiders still remain the NFL’s only winless team this season.

Defensively, the Raiders struggle in virtually every category as well, as they have amassed a paltry 8 sacks, only the Atlanta Falcons have less, at 7 through their first 8 games of the season, and give up 26.4 points per game (26th in the league)  and allow 132.5 rushing yards per game (27th in the NFL).

However, the Broncos still have a lot to prove, as they are still smarting off of the loss to New England  and have struggled on the road this season, sporting a record of only 1-2 away from 5,280 feet.

Now, it is presumptuous for me to say the Broncos are a horrendous road team as with the stats terribly skewed in terms of road games this season, they have only played three. However, with a hated divisional rival awaiting them Sunday afternoon, there is no better time for Denver to prove their worth away from Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Despite the significant margin of deficit they incurred in defeat to the Patriots Sunday, the Broncos’ overall statistics are still exemplary as they are 3rd in the NFL at 30.6 points per game, fifth in net yardage (407.6 yards per game) and 2nd in passing yardage (313.5 yards in the air per game).

Peyton Manning continues to have a successful season as he is first in the NFL in touchdown pass percentage , as 7.8 percent of his passes go for scores, and is second in both passing yards per game (321.5) and passer rating (112.0), despite being only 7th in pass attempts in NFL annals. With all of this compiled together, the student of football cannot help but conclude Manning is playing highly efficiently.

Additionally, his targets are serving him well when given the opportunity as tight end Julius Thomas leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns, at 10, while wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have also been symmetrical (Sanders is third in the NFL in receptions, sixth in net yardage, Demaryius Thomas is sixth in the NFL in receptions, third in net yardage) all helping the Broncos’ offense remain elite.

Defensively, the Broncos are giving up 23.1 points per game (16th in the league), and are 20th against the pass, surrendering 254 yards per contest in the air, but are still #1 in the league against the run (71.6 yards) and 7th in yards surrendered (325.6).

The problem the Broncos faced defensively against the Patriots last Sunday was in part, the impetus of their usually efficient offense turning the ball over as they  turned it over twice at Foxborough, Mass., representing 33 percent of their total turnovers on the season.

Meanwhile, the defensive stars, linebacker Von Miller, and right defensive end DeMarcus Ware (17 combined sacks) and emerging star, defensive tackle Malik Jackson ( 2 more sacks) are not having any problems putting pressure on the passer. This should be an intriguing chess match Sunday as the Raiders are second- best in the NFL at protecting the QB (tied with the Bengals), giving up only 1.25 sacks per game. Incidentally, the Broncos are best at protecting the QB in the NFL, giving up only 1.13 sacks per game

The good news for them this Sunday is that the Raiders are -10 in turnover ratio, which is second-worst in the NFL as the Jets are -15, so if the Broncos play wisely, turnover ratio should not be a problem, although crazier things have happened this season.

More propitious news awaited the Broncos after Wednesday practice as Denver-based FOX 31 sports reporter/producer/anchor Michelle Tuckner confirmed that tailback Montee Ball practiced and linebacker Nate Irving and wideout Wes Welker both seem to be progressing nicely after their injuries even if they do not play Sunday.

In short, if the Broncos have serious designs of having at the least, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, this is a game they need to win, serious championship contenders take care of business in such scenarios as they will see Sunday.