By Sam McPherson
The 2014 Oakland Raiders are 3-12, and perhaps that’s three games better than some of us thought for this season way back in early October. But the Silver & Black still can’t win on the road, and their final game of the season is in Denver against one of the best teams in the league.
If the Broncos need to win this game, the Raiders probably don’t stand a chance—all things considered. Peyton Manning and Co. have their sights set on loftier goals, having already clinched the AFC West Division, and they won’t fall prey to what felled the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills this fall.
Oakland hasn’t won a road game since November 2013, of course, and that losing streak probably will continue into the 2015 season.
The Broncos are 11-4 this year, and they’ve beaten playoff teams Arizona and Indianapolis. Denver also has lost to playoff teams Seattle and New England. This isn’t the same team as last year’s juggernaut; it’s actually somewhat better and more diverse on offense—and much stingier on defense.
Last year’s team had a point differential of +207, while this year’s squad was just +104 through 14 games. The Broncos have scaled back their offense in the last month, perhaps in an attempt to lull playoff opponents to sleep. But it’s still Peyton Manning back there, nonetheless, calling the shots.
Broncos on Offense
Make no mistake: Manning still is lethal, as his 37:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio suggests. He just doesn’t have to throw as much this year, because C.J. Anderson has emerged as a legitimate rushing threat for the Broncos to have a balanced attack. Anderson has 679 yards on just 148 carries this season through 14 games, and he’s going to be fresh for the postseason when Denver may have to travel to New England for the AFC title tilt.
Tight end Julius Thomas has been hurt for much of the second half, too, but when healthy, this receiving corps still frightens opponents. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have caught 185 passes between them, and this trio has 30 TD catches in total.
Broncos on Defense
The secondary has 16 interceptions this year, led by Rahim Moore’s four picks. Brandon Marshall is a tackling machine, with almost twice as many total tackles as anyone else on the Denver defense. And the two-headed pass rush provided by Von Miller (13 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (10 sacks) scares any opposing quarterback.
Last season, the Broncos gave up 399 points on defense—almost 25 points a game. This year, that number is down to 21.6 points a game. A field goal a game may not seem like much, but sometimes, those extra three points are a big difference maker in the postseason.
Broncos Players to Watch
Anderson looks and feels like the new key to the Broncos offense, which sounds weird considering Peyton is back there pulling the strings. But he brings a new dynamic to the Denver attack: think John Elway before and after Terrell Davis. Yes, this could be the same kind of evolution for Manning and the Broncos.
Of course, Manning probably still capable of beating teams with his arm, but Denver now has some options on offense.
We hate to beat a dead horse, but the Raiders haven’t won the road in more than a year. They’re a 3-12 team playing for pride, going up against a division champ playing for postseason position. It’s hard to see the Silver & Black winning this kind of game in Week 17.
Expect the Broncos to save Manning’s arm and legs for the playoffs, as Anderson gets a heavy dose of carries against the usually soft Oakland run defense. Denver should win this game by a few touchdowns.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.