Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Denver (9-3) makes the short trip to Oakland (3-9) in this Thursday night matchup of teams heading in opposite directions. But both offenses will have to buck the low-scoring trend that is "Thursday Night Football."
As pointed out in the recent article "No Thunder on Thursdays" by Thomas J. Harrigan, NFL teams who have played non-Thanksgiving Thursday night games have had problems putting points on the board - averaging just 18.5 ppg. Quarterbacks have completed 57.5 percent of their attempts (only five of 32 NFL teams have a completion percentage lower than that) and thrown 11 touchdown passes versus 26 interceptions.
Under this "cloud" the Broncos' high-powered offense, led by Comeback Player of the Year candidate Peyton Manning, will try to add to their top-three scoring offense (29.1 ppg).
There is not much more that can be said about Manning this season. Following a year on the sidelines because of four neck surgeries, the four-time MVP returned to the field without missing a beat. Through 12 games he's thrown for 3,502 yards (291.8 ypg), 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His current 104.6 QB rating is the second highest of his career. Manning will face a Raiders' pass defense ranked 25th, yielding more than 256 ypg. Obviously, he's a must start.
So are his two favorite receivers - Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Before the team's Week 7 bye, Decker received 52 percent of the targets, but since that point Thomas is getting 59 percent of Manning's passes. Thomas, the deep threat, is fourth in the league with 1,114 receiving yards while Decker has 702 yards. Both wideouts have caught eight touchdowns, just two behind league- leader A.J. Green.
Manning also frequently uses his tight ends, but this season the production has been split between two guys, Jacob Tamme (47-449-2) and Joel Dreessen (29-253-4) and neither can be started. He'll also use Brandon Stokley for key third-down situations, but the veteran could miss his second straight game with a hip injury Thursday and doesn't see enough targets to be counted on as a fantasy option anyway.
Broncos' running back Willis McGahee was highly productive until his season- ending knee and leg injuries and after a week of confusion coach John Fox has decided to go with perennial fantasy disappointment Knowshon Moreno ahead of rookie Ronnie Hillman or veteran Lance Ball. Moreno has produced 9.7 fantasy ppg in the two games since being handed the starting assignment. That's low-end RB2 material, but he's getting 24 touches a game which means he could easily improve. We're willing to give him a shot against an Oakland run defense yielding 130.4 ypg.
When Oakland gets the ball, the situation is much less clear as to what fantasy owners should do.
Carson Palmer has been one of the season's best late-round fantasy quarterbacks (fantasyfootballcalculator.com preseason ADP: 126), with 3,532 passing yards (294.3 ypg) and 20 touchdowns. He's apparently mastered the art of falling way behind in the game and then roaring back only to fall short and lose. But the late-game comebacks are engineered via the passing game which has elevated Palmer to the 12th-ranked fantasy quarterback.
Strangely, none of Palmer's wide receivers are having big seasons. Deep threat Denarius Moore (38-635-6) is dropping so many passes that he was benched last week and Darrius Heyward-Bey (32-480-3) has had trouble staying healthy, so Palmer has frequently turned to tight end Brandon Myers (69-721-4) and fullback Marcel Reece. Of the four, only Myers is a reliable option for Week 14.
The backfield situation is also up in the air. Darren McFadden (ankle) has practiced for two weeks and is expected to return. Backup Mike Goodson (ankle) could also return. Unfortunately, the Raiders' best back this season has been Reece (13.6 ppg as a starter), who will likely be relegated to third-downs and passing situations. McFadden has the ability to be a fantasy star, but at this point we think he'll be limited both by the ankle and sharing time with Goodson and Reece.
Denver place-kicker Matt Prater is 17-of-22 (77.3 percent) on field goals, not his best career work. Kicking off the Oakland turf can be difficult, so we say look elsewhere for your kicker. Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski is always a top choice and is 24-of-26 this season, including four field goals from 50 yards or more. Start Janikowski.