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NFL Preview - Denver (3-10) at Oakland (6-7)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Having already won more games this season than any other one since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002 with an 11-5 record, the Oakland Raiders still have their sights set on ending a seven-year playoff drought.
The Silver and Black have stumbled a bit since a 5-4 start, losing three of their last four games, but still remain alive in the postseason race as they host the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos this Sunday from the Oakland Coliseum.
The Raiders still have a shot at capturing their first postseason berth since 2002, but will need some help around the league getting there. That's asking quite a lot, so taking care of its own business for the remainder of the regular season is Oakland's top priority. Kansas City currently leads the AFC West with an 8-5 mark, followed by 8-6 San Diego and the 6-7 Raiders, with Denver last with a dismal 3-10 ledger.
In a tough 38-31 setback at Jacksonville last week, the Raiders squandered a chance to move within a game of the Chiefs for the division lead and blew a 10-point advantage at halftime.
Oakland running back Darren McFadden has often put the team on his back and accumulated 209 yards of total offense in the loss. McFadden helped the Raiders rack up 476 yards of offense by producing 123 rushing yards and two scores on 16 carries, while catching three passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. He had a 67-yard catch and run for a score and ripped off a 51-yard touchdown scamper as well.
The Raiders gave up a few big plays of their own, as Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew added a 30-yard touchdown run to his 101 yards on 23 touches. Jags backup tailback Rashad Jennings beat up Oakland's defense as well with 109 yards and a score on only five attempts.
Jacksonville scored 21 points in the third quarter and outscored the Raiders by a 31-14 count in the second half.
"Too many big plays defensively. We gave up too many," Raiders head coach Tom Cable said postgame. "We were able to get some offensively. Overall, just too many big plays."
Cable's team, which wasted a stellar offensive output against the Jaguars, looks to post as many big plays as it did the first time Denver came across the schedule. In a 59-14 rout of the Broncos in the Rocky Mountains on Oct. 24, McFadden blew up for three rushing touchdowns and a receiving score, while carrying the ball 16 times for a career-high 165 yards that day for the Raiders, whose previous high for points in a regular-season game was 52.
Broncos interim coach Eric Studesville lost his first game at the helm last weekend, a 43-13 shellacking by the host Arizona Cardinals. He was promoted from running backs coach to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired on Dec. 6 after suffering three straight losses and posting an 11-17 record in his two seasons at the helm.
Now Denver's losing streak has reached four games and the team is an atrocious 3-10 on the campaign. The season couldn't end any sooner for the Broncos, who will play their third straight road game on Sunday. They are just 1-6 away from the Mile High City this year and have dropped five straight as the guest.
A 24-point fourth quarter by the Cardinals sealed Denver's fate and Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton had his first multi-interception game of the season, throwing three picks and no touchdown passes. He completed 19-of-41 attempts for 166 yards for a season-low 27.1 quarterback rating.
Orton, who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in back-to-back weeks after tossing eight over the previous three, passed for only 117 yards in a loss at Kansas City the week prior on Dec. 5. He suffered a rib injury in the third quarter of last Sunday's loss, but didn't miss any time.
Rookie Tim Tebow was warming up on the sidelines when Orton got nicked up against Arizona, but never entered the game.
Studesville confirmed earlier in the week that Orton will be his man for this week's showdown in Oakland.
"We're going to make the decision that's best for us overall as an organization and as a team," Studesville said. "I'm going to certainly look to the input from everyone from [Broncos President and Chief Executive Officer] Mr. [Pat] Bowlen on down to the coaches and all of us that have been around to make that evaluation, if that's what we need to do."
Tebow said he'll be ready if his name is called in the last three games of the season, two of which will be at home versus Houston and San Diego. The former University of Florida star and Heisman Trophy winner does get a few reps in practice with the first team and is popular among the fans.
Oakland has a 57-41-2 advantage over the Broncos in a series between former AFL rivals dates back to 1960 and has won the last two meetings, with the Raiders amassing their highest single-game point total in franchise history in October's rout. Oakland also edged Denver on the road in a 20-19 squeaker last season, avenging a 23-3 Broncos' victory at the Coliseum earlier in the year. The road team has prevailed in each of the past five matchups, with Denver winning twice in Oakland during that span.
The Raiders have not beaten the Broncos twice in the same season since 2002, the year the Silver and Black made their last Super Bowl appearance.
In addition to the regular-season set, the teams have split a pair of postseason matchups, with Denver winning the 1977 AFC Championship by a 20-17 count and the then-Los Angeles Raiders prevailing in a 1993 AFC First-Round Playoff, 42-24.
Cable is 3-1 lifetime against the Broncos, while Studesville will be opposing both Cable and Oakland for the first time in charge.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Orton (3,653 passing yards, 20 TD, 9 INT) hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since tossing three in a loss to St. Louis on Nov. 28 and had just three picks in an eight-game span before getting intercepted three times in last week's loss at Arizona. He is on pace to break his career-high of 3,802 passing yards established during the 2009 season, when he started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Orton needs 347 passing yards to join Jay Cutler, John Elway and Jake Plummer in the Broncos' 4,000-yard club. Barring any changes by the coaches or executives, Orton is on track to make every start this season. It remains to be seen if Denver has any interest in giving Tebow some shots since the season is already lost. Orton gives the team the best chance to win right now, however, and it's hard to erase his impressive start to the season and strong rapport with his receivers. Brandon Lloyd (63 receptions, 1,185 yards, 9 TD) has taken the NFL world by storm with his unpredictable campaign and has shattered his previous career-best marks in the pros. He leads the team with a career-high 63 catches and has scored his most touchdowns in a season as well. Running back Knowshon Moreno (714 rushing yards, 5 TD) has notched 100 yards or more from scrimmage in five straight games.
Oakland will be trying to put Orton on his back on a regular basis in its quest for a possible playoff berth. The Raiders entered the week tied with San Diego for third in the league with 38 sacks and posted two last Sunday. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (46 tackles) had one sack to push his 2010 total to six, while linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (49 tackles) also has six sacks. Tackle Tommy Kelly (45 tackles) leads the team with seven. The defense had a rough time stopping the Jaguars' running game, though, as it allowed 234 yards on the ground and Jones-Drew and Jennings were key to Jacksonville's victory. Oakland is 26th against the rush in 2010, permitting 132.8 yards per game. It's usually not good news for a defense when two of the top tacklers on the squad start in the secondary. Safety Tyvon Branch (86 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) leads the way in stops, while safety Michael Huff (81 tackles, 4 sacks, INT) is second. The Raiders are seventh against the pass and hope to have All- Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (16 tackles) back in the lineup after he did not play last week because of an ankle sprain. He has no interception this season because teams usually avoid his side. Rookie linebacker Rolando McClain (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is still bothered by a foot problem and is questionable for Sunday.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell (1,763 passing yards, 10 TD, 6 INT) is probably feeling more pressure than ever to get this team to the playoffs with slim hopes. Campbell has been protecting the football, as evidenced by his two interceptions over the past six games, and threw for a season-high 324 yards in the close loss at Jacksonville while posting his third multi-touchdown game of the season with a pair of touchdown strikes. Campbell also had a rating more than 100 for the fifth time in a Raiders uniform. The former Washington Redskin is 2-0 lifetime against the Broncos with 397 passing yards, three scores and no interceptions. Oakland is 24th in the NFL with 199.8 passing yards per game, an area the team will have to work on for next season. Tight end Zach Miller is once again leading all Raider pass-catchers with 42 receptions, but has posted 100 or more receiving yards in a game just once this season. He needs 51 receiving yards to become the second tight end in franchise history with at least three straight 600-yard campaigns, joining Todd Christensen. Wideout Louis Murphy (36 receptions, 2 TD) had a team-high 59 receiving yards and a score on six catches last week. The Raiders are third in the NFL with 149.3 rushing yards per game thanks to McFadden (993 rushing yards, 7 TD), who is seven yards shy of the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Denver's defense imploded against the Cardinals, getting outscored by a 27-10 margin in the second half. The Broncos applied no pressure up front and have recorded just two sacks in the past two games. Linebacker and leading tackler D.J. Williams (104 tackles, 4 sacks) led the way with a team-best eight stops, but hasn't gotten to the quarterback in five straight games. He did secure his fourth consecutive 100-tackle season and fifth in his seven-year career, however, with last week's performance. Linebacker Mario Haggan (70 tackles) has a Denver-high five sacks on the season and hopes to team up with Williams against Campbell. Haggan, whose 70 stops are a career-high, is one of five defenders who has started all 13 games this season, joining defensive backs Renaldo Hill and Champ Bailey and linemen Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams. Haggan is one of four players in the NFL to total at least 70 tackles and five sacks in 2010. Bailey, as usual, leads the team in interceptions with two and will most likely earn a trip to his 10th Pro Bowl, which would break the NFL record for a cornerback he currently shares with Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. Denver should be concerned about containing McFadden, since it's 31st in the league in run defense and 28th in total yards allowed. The Broncos are also rated last in points surrendered at 28.9 per game.
The Raiders' defense shined in the last meeting with Denver and will be a good pick on Sunday, along with McFadden, Miller and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. McFadden has been on fire and will be key with most leagues in the playoffs.
Orton should bounce back from two miserable starts this week, while Moreno and Lloyd are solid picks as well. Sitting Denver's defense for this and any week may be a wise choice.
If the Raiders can stop Moreno and avoid giving up the big play like they did in Jacksonville, their playoff chances should remain intact. But remember, the loss to the Jags in which it blew a 10-point lead forced Oakland to rely on other teams in its quest to capture an AFC West title or Wild Card berth. Oakland must win out, but is 4-0 in division play this season. That trend will continue Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 20, Broncos 13
12/17 09:34:28 ET