Week 14 features the Raiders in Denver to face the Broncos. Once again, it looks like the Raiders are playing for pride late while the Broncos are jockeying for playoff position. At the moment, the Broncos are a top seed, but the Raiders are looking to knock them down a peg and force them to take the field for wildcard weekend.
To see all the viewing details as well as odds and injury report, click here.
Here is what to watch for in this week's game:
Jack Del Rio's return to Denver
This will be Jack Del Rio's first trip back to Denver as head coach of the Raiders. He was hired by the Raiders after three seasons as defense coordinator for the Broncos under head coach John Fox. Last offseason, Del Rio got his dream job in Oakland. Shortly after he left, his mentor John Fox was fired and became head coach in Chicago. Del Rio already faced Fox in week four with the Raiders narrowly losing in Chicago. Now he will take the field at Mile High on the opposite sideline, where the Bay Area Native and lifelong Raiders fan belongs.
A couple months ago, the thought of the Broncos going with Brock Osweiler over Peyton Manning was laughable. And with the Broncos starting the season 7-0, even with Manning not playing that well, it was still not a believable idea. Then Manning lost two-straight and went out with a foot injury. Since then, Brock Osweiler has stepped in and run the Broncos offense better than Peyton had done all season long.
He has the Broncos on a three-game win streak and back on track for a number one seed in the playoffs. He even led the team to a win over the once 10-0 Patriots - their first defeat of the season. Where Manning and new head coach Gary Kubiak's styles were clashing, Osweiler and Kubiak are meshing. As a result, the entire offense is running better with the team having three of its best rushing performances of the season over the past three games.
Denver Offensive backfield questionable
Speaking of that improved running game... That's one area in particular that is quite beat up, with both starting backs injured and questionable for the game. Starting running back CJ Anderson missed the entire week of practices with an ankle injury and is questionable. Ronnie Hillman, who has started 7 games this season, missed the first two practices and returned limited on Friday with a foot injury. He too is questionable. You might recall, Anderson was the guy who ran all over the Raiders late last season for three touchdowns.
Hillman is the team's leading rusher this season. He and Anderson have basically split carries. It appears he could play, though he may not be 100%. If for some reason neither of them plays, the next man up is Juwan Thompson who has run a total of 13 times for 40 yards this season. Eight of those carries came last week as an injury replacement. He averaged 3.38 yards per carry in that game.
Mack seeking double digits
It has been nearly a decade since the Raiders had a pass rusher reach double digit sacks. The last time it happened was 2006 when Derrick Burgess led the team with 11.0 sacks. This Sunday, Mack seeks to do it against the Broncos. He is currently sitting at 9.0 sacks on the season which is tied for fifth in the NFL with Von Miller. Currently Mack is in the Pro Bowl conversation, but is sitting at 7th among defensive ends with less than a week remaining to cast votes. So, you might want to cast your vote if you think Mack is deserving (he is).
Derek Carr looks to "bounce back" vs NFL's best pass defense
Last Sunday against the Chiefs Derek Carr had possibly the worst game of this career. He three three interceptions -- all in the fourth quarter and all resulting in Chiefs touchdowns. He said this week that he was lying awake thinking about those interceptions. Last time Carr faced the Broncos, he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He says he will bounce back, and I believe he will. But he doesn't exactly have the easiest match-up in which to do it.
The Broncos not only have the NFL's best defense, much of that comes by way of their smothering pass defense -- also tops in the league. They have a potent mixture of coverage and pass rush that make yards hard to come by. Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr (who had the pick six on Carr in their last meeting) and Bradley Roby are possibly the best trio of corners in the league. Carr's only respite come with the absence of top safety TJ Ward who is out injured.
As for that pass rush...
Raiders Oline vs Broncos Dline/pass rush
The most important match-ups in the game will be how the Raiders offensive line versus the Broncos defensive line and pass rushers. Much like the Chiefs last week, the Broncos have a stellar defensive line and pass rush. The Chiefs have been the best over the past six weeks while the Broncos have had the best unit over the entirety of the season. Here are those key match-ups broken down.
Rodney Hudson vs Sylvester Williams
It can't be understated the importance of having Rodney Hudson back in the lineup. He had missed the past two weeks and three of the past four games with a high ankle sprain. He returned to practice full go this week and that's great news. Last week the Raiders had some difficulty getting much up the gut against the Dontari Poe and the Chiefs stout defensive line. Part of the issue was not having Hudson in the lineup.
This week the nose tackle in Sylvester Williams which is a downgrade for the opposition vs an upgrade for the Raiders. And since running the ball is where the Raiders could find their most success, that's important.
Gabe Jackson vs Derek Wolfe
Speaking of success running the ball; this game pits the Broncos' best run stopper against the Raiders best run blocker. The Broncos' have the fifth best run defense in the league and Wolfe has been a big part of that. It will be the battle of attrition. At times this season Jackson has been unstoppable. Route 66 is how the Raiders pick up a lot of their yards. Whether through his position, or pulling him and going through the other side of the line.
Austin Howard vs Von Miller
This match-up is downright scary. Miller is one of the best pass rushers in the game while Howard has had some issues of late.
Donald Penn vs DeMarcus Ware
Ware has missed the past four weeks with a back injury. And yet he still has 6.5 sacks in just seven games this season. He returns just in time to face the Raiders. Nice and fresh. The dynamic duo of Ware and Miller is not a reunion the Raiders wanted to see this week. Not at all.