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NFL Preview - Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Raiders will be searching for their fifth straight win in the Rocky Mountains on Sunday as Dennis Allen returns to Denver.
The new Oakland head coach, who spent the 2011 season in Denver as the Broncos defensive coordinator, captured his first win as an NFL mentor last week when Sebastian Janikowski drilled a 43-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Raiders over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-31.
Janikowski also connected on a game-tying 32-yard kick in the fourth quarter for Oakland.
Carson Palmer went 24-for-34 through the air for 209 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while Darren McFadden had 113 yards and a score on 18 carries for the Raiders (1-2).
"It's a great feeling, but I'm so proud of those guys in that locker room and the way that they fought for 60 minutes," Allen said about his first win. "We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight against a very good football team that we played out there today. They fought all the way up to the very end and we were fortunate to come out on top.".
The Broncos, meanwhile, have dropped two straight after opening the season with a win over the Steelers.
Houston's Matt Schaub threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns last Sunday, as the Texans held off Denver 31-25.
Peyton Manning threw for 330 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter scores, but ended up with a career-high 26 incompletions on 52 passes as the Broncos (1-2) saw their late charge fall short to send them to a second consecutive loss.
"Any time we're throwing incomplete passes, that's a we thing. We got to find a way to move the chains," Manning said.
It's the 64th time that Manning has thrown for at least 300 yards in a game, surpassing Dan Marino's record for the most 300-yard passing games in NFL history.
Eric Decker hauled in eight passes for 136 yards, while Brandon Stokley added six catches for 73 yards and a score in the setback.
Oakland leads this historic rivalry with a 59-42-2 mark, including winning six of the past nine and the four straight in the Rockies.
"It's a division opponent, it's a big game," said Allen. "We've got a challenge to face the Denver Broncos and we're going to come up with a good plan. Our focus is going to be on our team trying to exploit whatever weaknesses Denver has and eliminate the times they're able to exploit whatever vulnerabilities we have."
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
The Raiders are at their best when McFadden is hitting on all cylinders and he finally broke out last week against Pittsburgh. The former Arkansas star has traditionally performed very well against Denver, compiling three straight 100-yard performances against the Broncos. Meanwhile, his 637 total yards rushing vs. Denver is his most vs. any opponent.
When McFadden is having success running the football that opens the doors for the veteran Palmer, who tossed three TD passes last week. That's typically a big sign of success for a Palmer-led clubs, who are 17-4 when he throws three- or-more.
Palmer will likely be without one of his top outside threats this week, however. Darius Heyward-Bey was carted off the field during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against Pittsburgh after taking a hard hit from Ryan Mundy. The receiver's head hit the turf first as he fell, and medical personnel attended to him for several minutes before a cart wheeled him off the field. He was responsive and gave a thumbs up to the crowd as he departed.
The speedy Heyward-Bey, who has nine receptions for 98 yards this season, was diagnosed with a concussion and neck strain and is expected to make a full recovery but hasn't passed impact testing yet. That's significant since Oakland lacks depth outside.
Palmer will have to rely on Denarious Moore, who posted his first TD catch of season last week, and tight end Brandon Myers, who already has a career-best 206 receiving yards this season.
Denver will likely be without starting linebacker Joe Mays this week. Mays was suspended one game and fined $50,000 for an illegal hit against Matt Schaub. The veteran, who has been active, recording 10 tackles and one-half sack so far, is appealing but that's an uphill battle.
The big guns on the Broncos defense are end Elvis Dumervil, rush linebacker Von Miller and veteran corner Champ Bailey. Dumervil has 7.5 career sacks vs. Raiders, his most against any opponent while Miller has 14 1/2 sacks in 18 career games. The aging Bailey had a pair of interceptions in his last game vs. Raiders.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Expecting Manning to hit the ground running after four different neck surgeries and nearly two calendar years away from the game was asking a bit much. The old zip just hasn't been there early this season and while part of Manning's problems have certainly been rust-related, he's been getting by on guile thus far. Denver is crossing its fingers hoping the arm comes back.
Decker looks like Manning's favorite receiver thus far. The wideout recorded a career-best in catches and receiving yards last week and teams with DeMaryius Thomas to give Manning two solid options.
Veteran Willis McGahee, who is battling a rib cartilage issue, handles most of the work from the backfield for Denver and traditionally excels vs. Oakland. McGahee rushed for 163 yards with two TDs in last game vs. the Raiders and has six rush TDs in his past four games against Oakland.
The Raiders defense has been shaky early, allowing an average of 29.3 points per game. Oakland is one of just three teams without an interception and is tied for 28th in the league with three sacks.
The Raiders attempted to address the pass rushing problems this week by signing 11-year veteran defensive end Andre Carter but it's unknown how many reps Carter may get this week if any.
"We've got it in us to be a mentally tough team and compete and fight and keep going until the very end," Allen said. "That's what you have to do to win consistently in this league."
Heyward-Bey has been a disappointment during his NFL career but his speed will be missed on Sunday. You have to account for Heyward-Bey when he's on the field and the Broncos secondary should be able to sit on a number of routes, making things tougher for Palmer.
Meanwhile, Manning is 77-29 as a starter when he has home field. Granted, the former MVP lost a week ago but Houston is one of the best two or three teams in football and Manning almost led a furious comeback even with his below average arm strength.
"We're 1-2 and we've got a big division game coming up against Oakland," said Manning. "Division games count double, so we've got to learn from this last game and improve from it."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 27, Raiders 21
09/27 13:34:33 ET