By Sam McPherson
Generally, you don’t want to play Peyton Manning when he is mad. And right now, Manning is pissed off after his Denver Broncos lost on the road—and badly—to the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
So what can the 0-8 Oakland Raiders expect when they welcome Manning and the Broncos to town this weekend? A lot of points on the scoreboard, for one, and probably another loss for the Silver & Black.
Denver sits atop the AFC West division, but Manning definitely wants to secure home-field advantage again for the conference playoffs, and to do that, losing in Oakland is not an option.
The Broncos are 6-2 with a one-game lead in the division over the 5-3 Kansas City Chiefs. Denver’s two losses were both on the road: at Seattle in overtime and at New England. They’ve won their six games by a combined 88 points in 2014.
Their defeated opponents include the Indianapolis Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Jets, the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. Four of those teams made the postseason last year, and the Cardinals have the NFL’s best record this season (7-1) after winning 10 games last year and just missing the playoffs.
Broncos on Offense
It all starts and begins here with quarterback Peyton Manning, of course. He is having a usual season: 24 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a 112.0 QB rating. He has a bevy of targets in the passing game, led by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (54 catches, 894 yards, six TDs), WR Emmanuel Sanders (57, 785, 4) and tight end Julius Thomas (32, 360 10).
The running game is sound, and depending on health, it’s deep with backs as well. Ronnie Hillman has the man lately, and for the season, he’s run for 365 yards on 85 carries. Juwan Thompson and C.J. Anderson are able backups, each averaging well over 4.0 yards per carry this year as well.
The Broncos just need to run enough to keep the defense honest; their offense runs through Manning, obviously.
Broncos on Defense
Outside linebacker Brandon Marshall leads the team with 62 tackles, two per game more than anyone else on the team. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Von Miller and defensive end DeMarcus Ware provide the pass rush: Miller has nine sacks this year, while Ware has eight.
In the secondary, free safety Rahim Moore has three interceptions and cornerback Aqib Talib has two picks. Overall, the Denver defense is much improved from the maligned unit that supported Manning in 2012 and 2013.
Remember, it was Moore who gave up that 70-yard TD pass to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 playoffs to cost the Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs at home. Ware and Talib are new to the team this year, and they’ve been paying immediate dividends.
Broncos Players to Watch
Watch all of them, as the Denver offense is quite entertaining. And against a Raiders defense that can’t stop anyone—or rather, can’t get itself off the field enough—Manning should have a big day. Take away the tight end, and the wideouts kill you. Take away Demaryius, and Julius scores at will. It’s pick-your-poison time for the Oakland defense.
When the Raiders are on offense, they’ll need to block Miller and Wade or else QB Derek Carr will end up on his back a lot in this game. Oakland should try running delayed draws against the Broncos to generate some chunks of yardage and perhaps score enough points to make the final score respectable.
Nothing on this planet will keep the Raiders from falling to 0-9 and losing their 15th straight game on Sunday at home against Denver. Nothing.
Expect this game to resemble the early-season results against Houston and Miami: Oakland has no chance to win this game, and it’ll be over by halftime.
Depending on how long the Broncos let Manning play, it could be a four-touchdown margin of victory for Denver.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.