This one means a bit more than your typical season game. It's the Raiders' first division game and it's against the hated Broncos who currently lead the division with a 4-0 record. There aren't many story lines more important than that. The Broncos are in Oakland. Batten down the hatches.
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Seven-game losing streak
The Raiders haven't beaten the Broncos since 2011 - a streak of 7 straight losses. And they haven't beaten the Broncos in Oakland since 2010. But that was pre-Peyton Manning Broncos and was an entirely different team to the one that is taking the field Sunday.
Charles Woodson vs Peyton Manning
This rivalry goes back a LONG way. Like, before either suited up in an NFL uniform. Woodson won the Heisman trophy over Manning. Then Manning was taken number one overall in the 1998 draft, with Woodson going fourth overall to the Raiders. After 18 years in the NFL, they (and Matt 'freaking' Hasselbeck) are the last remaining players in the NFL from that draft class. Both have won their respective Player of the Year awards and both have a Super Bowl ring.
The one thing that has eluded Woodson is intercepting Manning. Well, unless you count the football under the arm of the guy on the Heisman Trophy. Woodson will get another shot at after 8 previous times facing Manning in an NFL game. You never know when could be the final time these two future Hall of Famers will face off. He simply has to pick him off at least once just to check it off his bucket list.
Aldon Smith vs Ryan Harris
With starting left tackle Ty Sambrailo out, the Broncos move right tackle Ryan Harris to left tackle. Harris has stunk it up at right tackle all season, and was equally inept at left tackle last week, giving up one sack and two hurries.
This is the second week in a row, Aldon Smith will get to face a backup left tackle. Last week he had his best game as a Raiders facing backup Charles Leno. He had his first sack as a Raider and was a force against the run as well.
Pass rush must cover for battered secondary
Along with the tackle situation being what it is for the Broncos, their best lineman, Evan Mathis is questionable. The Raiders don't have a lot of advantages in this one and their pass rushers against the Broncos offensive line could be the only one. Conversely, the Raiders major disadvantage is their secondary. The only way they tilt the balance is to give Peyton Manning little to no time to find his receivers.
Jack Del Rio and Peyton Manning well acquainted
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has probably faced Peyton Manning more than any other head coach in league history. He faced him twice a season for 8 years in Jacksonville. Then his defense faced Peyton in practice every day for the past three years in Denver. But his familiarity with Peyton goes back even farther than that, as Peyton explains it.
"I've known Coach Del Rio going back to when he was in New Orleans and of course we played against each other a lot in the old AFC South when I was in Indy and he was in Jacksonville. He's an excellent coach. He's been around a long time as a player and a coach."
The two face off again on Sunday as head coach vs offensive coordinator/quarterback.
Both primary returners OUT
The Raiders can't seem to keep their kick returners. After trying out several of them this offseason, it was Taiwan Jones who won the kick return job and TJ Carrie back returning punts. Both are officially OUT for Sunday's game.
In their place last Sunday was Roy Helu Jr on kicks and Amari Cooper on punts. Helu is as good a choice as any for the kick return job, but Cooper returning punts is worrisome. One thing is for certain, though, there isn't a more elusive player on this team than Cooper. He will make a few guys miss and presents a major threat to break one every time he gets the ball. Even if he might cause a few fans to hold their breath every time he fields one for fear the Raiders will lose their number one wide receiver because of one overzealous special teams warrior.
Demaryius Thomas vs DJ Hayden
As the GoT meme says, "Brace yourselves." One of the better wide receivers in the league against Hayden, who has been a bystander on defense for the Raiders this season. This could get ugly.
Donald Penn vs DeMarcus Ware
These two wily veterans face off Sunday. Former 4-time All Pro DeMarcus Ware is still just as dominant as ever at the age of 33. He was a Pro Bowler last season with 10.0 sacks and has had a sack in every game already this season (4.5).
Penn was a top ten level left tackle last season and at the age of 32 has yet to give up a sack this season. He also has yet to face a pass rusher of the caliber of Ware, so it will be a good test for him.
Latavius Murray vs Derek Wolfe
As if the Broncos top defense needs any more help, they get Derek Wolfe back for the first time this season. Where Wolfe excels is against the run and that's the area the Raiders will look to get the offense going. Murray has been on each end of the spectrum the past two weeks. He went over 100 yards against the Browns and then followed that up with two turnovers last week in Chicago that may have cost the Raiders the game. His bounce back attempt will be a bit more difficult now with Wolfe in the lineup.