Broncos Can Lock up #2 Seed With Win Over Raiders

Monday, the Denver Broncos inadvertently gave their hated adversary in the New England Patriots the #1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs, but have also retained some autonomy in determining their postseason positioning as well.

While the Cincinnati Bengals ensured themselves of a berth in the postseason following their 37-28 upset of the Broncos Monday night from Paul Brown Stadium, they would need the Broncos to be upset by the Oakland Raiders Sunday and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of gaining a first-round bye.

In any event, I will not focus on the numerous playoff scenarios in place in the NFL as we approach Week 17 on December 28, but be assured that if the Broncos defeat the Raiders they will lock up the #2.

This would come with a bye which the Broncos would consider a belated Christmas present because their bye came in early October and they have been battling a litany of injuries in the interim.

Among them was a neck injury incurred by safety T.J. Ward, while linebacker Brandon Marshall was also out for the Cincinnati game, perhaps a factor in the Bengals running for 207 yards against the  current #2 rushing defense in the NFL. Preliminary reports emanating from sources on Twitter such as Denver FOX 31 sportscaster Michelle Tuckner, seem to suggest that both Ward and Marshall are available for the playoffs.

This is most likely true if the Broncos take care of business and give themselves a bye. This can also be a great time to scout opponents and see proclivities that they may have for any potential postseason matchups.

Anyway, the Broncos do have to take care of first things first and with the Oakland Raiders coming to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for a late Sunday afternoon tilt, this represents their last chance to get some quality reps in before the postseason commences.

In assessing the Oakland Raiders, per usual, at least this season, they are anything but a statistical behemoth on both sides of the ball. However, the analytical film student realizes the team is making vast strides that will most likely be seen in the future and is adept at playing spoiler.

The Raiders prevented the Kansas City Chiefs from taking control of the AFC West, while also ending the Buffalo Bills’ playoff aspirations last Sunday when they upset them 26-24 at Oakland and if the Broncos don’t watch themselves, they could be in danger of losing out on a free week of rest.

Anyway, the Raiders are currently the #31 scoring offense in the NFL (15.9 points per game), #32 in yards amassed per game (287.7), #25 in passing offense (209.5 yards per game) and #32 in rushing offense (78.2 yards). There is some potential being flashed by signal-caller Derek Carr though (3,112 yards, completing 58.6 percent of his passes, 20 TD’s/11 INT’s) and he gives Oakland the brightest prospects at the position since Carson Palmer several years ago.

The running game has fared well so long as rookie tailback Latavius Murray (72 car, 387 yards, 2 TD’s) has been healthy but he has battled concussions and several nagging injuries. However, when he is healthy, the Raiders’ running game is considerably explosive.

The Raiders also have several flashy targets for Carr in the deep passing game that former owner, the late Al Davis, loved so much. Among Carr’s stellar targets are wideouts James Jones (71 rec, 649 yards, 6 TD’s) and Andre Holmes (45 rec, 683 yards, 4 TD’s) and tight end Mychal Rivera (56 rec, 508 yards, 4 TD’s).

In short, this triumvirate has combined for 172 receptions, 1,840 yards and 14 TD’s, while Holmes flummoxed the Bills with a clutch 3rd and 22 reception Sunday that forced Buffalo to use a timeout even though kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed the subsequent field goal. Janikowski is currently 19-24 (.791) on the season, well below the NFL average of  .841 headed into Week 17.

Defensively, the Raiders are 30th in scoring defense (27 points allowed per game), 17th in net yardage given up (351.3 yards per game), #14 in passing defense (233.4 yards per game given up) and #21 against the run (117.9 yards per game).

In that vein of thought, there are still some strong performers on the Oakland defensive unit, such as defensive back Charles Woodson (a team-high 4 interceptions and a sack), outside linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive end Justin Tuck (4 sacks apiece), as well as outside linebacker Sio Moore and defensive end Antonio Smith (3 sacks apiece). However, the Raiders are -14 in turnover ratio this season, this has terribly hurt them.

Anyway, my assessment of the Raiders is, they are dangerous, as all NFL teams are. If the Broncos are desirous to emerge victorious, take care of business and execute. They were sporadic at best in their execution at Cincinnati, but when they did execute, they were unstoppable at times.

As for the Broncos, their seasonal averages statistically across the board, are more propitious than those of the Raiders. Their scoring offense is 4th in the NFL (29 points per game), while they are also 4th in net yardage offense (399.7 yards per game), as well as 4th in passing yards (290.1) and the offense is 16th in rushing (109.5 yards per game).

Signal-caller Peyton Manning was crucified by many media types and fans alike after Monday night’s performance but my careful study of the film suggests that while he was far from perfect, he was far from being as abysmal as many insinuated he was.

Overall on the season, I cannot critique Manning, as he leads the NFL with 39 TD passes and while he is fifth in the NFL in interceptions at 15, he has thrown 560 passes which means he throws 1 interception per every 37.3 pass attempts.

Additionally, Manning remains #1 in sack percentage in the NFL as he is sacked only 2.78 percent of the time, while throwing the eighth-most in the league. Additionally, he is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage at 4,454 yards and is #6 in the league at completion percentage (66.8) and fourth in passer rating at 102.9. Furthermore, he is fourth in passing yards per game at 296.9 yards per outing and fourth in yards per attempt at 8.0 yards every time he passes it.

In short, Manning, despite the numerous afflictions he faces in his ever-increasing age, he, more often than not, finds a way to get the job done. If the Broncos taste Super Bowl glory, it will likely be because of his magnificence. Sometimes, my fellow journalists deceive themselves and the truth is not in them. If the offensive line does a sufficient job of protecting Manning, this team will most likely win the Super Bowl. That remains the elephant in the room as the line was horrendously manhandled Monday evening in The Queen City.

Now, it’s disingenuous to suggest he is a one-man band because he is getting tremendous contributions from tailback C.J. Anderson who now has 1,066 all-purpose yards this season and 7 total TD’s despite not being a consistent contributor before the first Oakland game November 9.

Additionally, tailback Juwan Thompson remains a force as he is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has 3 TD’s, not bad for having only 54 carries on the season.

Manning’s wideouts have been simply spectacular on the season and seem to be faring better as it continues. Demaryius Thomas is second in the NFL with 103 receptions, third in league annals with 1,504 yards, fourth in the NFL in yards per game (100.3) and seventh in the league with 11 scoring snags. Incidentally, Thomas’ receptions and yardage totals are both career highs.

Furthermore, Emmanuel Sanders continues to put up #1 numbers despite being a #2 option with 95 receptions, fifth in the NFL, 1,331 receiving yards, 6th in the NFL, and seventh in the NFL at 88.7 yards per game, while also posting 9 touchdowns for good measure.

The kicking game is no longer an issue, at least in terms of field goals, as Connor Barth, since being signed November 25, has made 11 of his 12 attempts, connecting at a 91.6 percent clip, third in the NFL behind only Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri (28 of 28, 1.00 percent) and New England’s Stephen Gostkowski (32 of 34, .941).

However, with 206 punt/kickoff returns surrendered Monday night at Cincinnati, the Broncos’ special teams in general must improve. This kind of performance is insufficient for postseason success so hopefully the team looks at this during this week’s film study.

Defensively, linebacker Von Miller is 7th in the NFL with 13 sacks and a forced fumble for good measure, while linebacker DeMarcus Ware has 10 sacks and an interception. Additionally, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Aqib Talib have four interceptions apiece on the season, while Talib has returned a pair of interceptions for scores as well, proving to be a wise off-season investment for the Broncos as the season progresses.

Furthermore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has three interceptions and a sack and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, with 3 sacks of his own, continues to be  a disruptive force in the Broncos’ defensive line.

In short, there is still much for the Broncos to work on but if they can get a win and end the season at 12-4, they will have earned the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs and in so doing, have a shot to win a championship.