NFL Preview - Oakland (1-1) at Denver (2-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The latest installment in one of the NFL's greatest rivalries will headline "Monday Night Football" for a record 17th time when the Oakland Raiders visit the Denver Broncos.
"Guys get geeked up for it," Broncos coach John Fox said when asked about appearing on national television. "It's a night game. It's the last game on TV for the week. All your peers are watching, so guys get excited about it."
As heated as things have been in the past between these two teams, today's version of the conflict is a bit like comparing kindling to the fire engulfing it.
Denver is one of the NFL's best teams and the Raiders are one of the league's worst, on the ground floor of their latest rebuilding project behind first-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
On the other hand, with Peyton Manning leading things in the Rockies, anything less than a Super Bowl berth will be considered a disappointment by the Broncos faithful.
Peyton ran his record to 3-0 against his baby brother Eli back on Sept. 15, passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns as Denver handled the New York Giants 41-23.
"It was a good team victory," Peyton said. "To go into New York and beat a good football team on the road, hopefully we can build off that."
The elder Manning, who also beat Eli twice as quarterback of the Colts, was coming off an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a season-opening win over the Ravens.
He had a little more help against the Giants.
Knowshon Moreno had touchdown runs of 20 and 25 yards and dynamic return man Trindon Holliday ran back a punt 81 yards for another score. Peyton's touchdown passes went to Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
Things aren't all rosy for the Broncos, though. All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady was put on season-ending reserve Wednesday after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury in the win over the Big Blue.
The 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowl selection has started every game for Denver since the team drafted him with the 12th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.
"It's unfortunate," Fox said. "I mean, he's a Pro Bowl player for us. So it's a blow. But again, it's cliche, but it's next man up."
In this case the next man up to protect Manning's blind side is Chris Clark, who has started just six games over six years in the NFL and signed a two-year extension this week. Meanwhile, veteran Winston Justice, who started 12 games for Indianapolis last season, was inked to a deal Wednesday as insurance.
"Chris Clark, we have great confidence in," Fox continued. "He's played a lot of football a year ago, as well as this preseason when Ryan was getting his shoulder back. So I think his teammates have a lot of confidence in him and we feel good about him."
Off the field already suspended linebacker Von Miller continues to give the organization a bit of a black eye as news broke that the All-Pro allegedly collaborated with a sample collector in an attempt to beat an NFL drug test.
According to ESPN, the collector was willing to substitute another person's urine sample in place of Miller's. However, sources said a second collector discovered that Miller was not in the city where his sample was to have been retrieved.
Miller was initially fighting a four-game suspension this summer for violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, but speculation began to circulate that the NFL was attempting to lengthen the penalty to as much as a year -- apparently because of the alleged tampering. The NFL did increase the ban from four to six games.
Miller, the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, is not eligible to return until the Broncos' Week 7 game against Indianapolis.
ESPN said the sample collector was dismissed by the NFL.
Oakland, meanwhile, is also coming off a victory in Week 2, topping moribund Jacksonville, 19-9, behind Darren McFadden's 157 yards from scrimmage -- including 129 on the ground -- and Sebastian Janikowski's four field goals.
The Raiders rolled to the rather easy win thanks to a lopsided 226-34 advantage in rushing yards and limiting the Jaguars to a mere 248 total yards overall.
Fresh off inking a three-year extension, fullback Marcel Reece scored Oakland's only touchdown and Pryor threw for 126 yards on 15-of-24 passing as the Raiders rebounded from their season-opening loss at Indianapolis.
"We needed to win," Oakland head coach Dennis Allen said. "It does a lot for the confidence of our football team."
This will be the 106th time the Raiders and Broncos have tangled with Oakland holding a solid 59-44-2 advantage.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If anyone can persevere without an elite left tackle it's Manning. The veteran is as smart as they come and has the quickest release since Kurt Warner or perhaps when Dan Marino was in his prime with the Dolphins.
With Manning in the captain's chair the explosive Broncos lead the NFL with 90 points and are only the third team in the past 30 years to score 40-plus points in each of their first two games, joining the 2009 Saints and the 2001 Colts, who were also piloted by Manning.
Manning led the league entering Week 3 with a 131.0 passer rating and is the only player in NFL history with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions through the first two weeks of a season. Furthermore, the Broncos have beaten the last two Super Bowl champions by the combined score of 90-50.
If you cover Demaryius Thomas, Welker is going to get open. If you check both of those difference-makers, Eric Decker may jump up and bite you and if by some miracle, you lock down all the receivers, here comes Thomas, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound runaway locomotive in the open field.
The fact that Moreno solidified a somewhat shaky running game last week in North jersey also adds to Oakland's worries on defense.
Through two games, the Raiders are tied atop the NFL with nine sacks. Of those, a league-high five are from defensive backs so defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is being very aggressive in an attempt to disrupt things.
"They've committed to some pressure," Fox said. "I think they're playing good team defense. They have had a lot of changes but right now they're playing good as a unit. That's the key for any team."
"They can get the sacks different ways," Manning added. "They have some good pass rushers yet they have multiple blitz packages. It's important to block your man and also know your assignment. I think communication will be pivotal against this defense."
Offensively, the Raiders currently boast the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack, averaging 198.5 yards per game. McFadden led the AFC entering Week 3 with 177 rushing yards and Pryor was third with 162 yards.
Right now it's Pryor's mobility that is causing the most problems for opposing defenses.
"It definitely opens up some things that we haven't seen thus far," Fox said when discussing Pryor's athleticism. "This is the first time we really have a real mobile guy. They're doing a terrific job utilizing him in the run game. Their standard run game or conventional run game is very good. They lead the league in rushing. So it will be a full test for our defense."
Denver is currently riding a 13-game regular-season win streak and can match the franchise record against Oakland with another on the plus-side, something that feels like a fait accompli.
"This will be the best team that we've faced and they're very talented, so we're going to have to do a good job of changing things up and mixing some things up, mixing some looks and be able to play a good, team game," Allen said.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 41, Raiders 17
09/23 09:22:17 ET