KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 88th meeting. Oakland leads the series 52-33-2 in the regular season, and the teams have split two postseason meetings. The Broncos have taken 14 of 18 games since Mike Shanahan took over as Broncos head coach in 1995.
*2004 rankings: Broncos: offense 10th (11th rush, 11th pass); defense 1st (10th rush, 2nd pass). Raiders: offense 15th (21st rush, 9th pass); defense 14th (18th rush, 12th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Raiders QB Kerry Collins has a 2-to-7 touchdown to interceptions ratio, which is killing far too many drives. He has plenty of downfield receiving options, but the Broncos feature a good secondary and Collins will have to make solid reads. The problem is the Raiders are likely to be without their power back, Tyrone Wheatley, for a second consecutive game. RBs Justin Fargas and Amos Zereoue are competent backups but don't provide a physical presence. Meanwhile, the Broncos are getting unexpected production out of bruising RB Reuben Droughns, who has relegated Quentin Griffin to a change-of-pace back for at least this week. QB Jake Plummer continues to mix strong performances with poor decisions and the Broncos are still seeking more consistency, especially going against Raiders CBs Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Are 6-3 in Oakland under coach Mike Shanahan. ... WR Rod Smith's 637 receptions since 1997 ranks second in the NFL. Raiders: CB Phillip Buchanon has 10 interceptions in 17 career starts. ... Starting WRs Jerry Porter and Jerry Rice and TE Doug Jolley have no touchdown receptions. ... Lead the regular-season series 52-33-2.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-23
--RB Garrison Hearst could be inactive for Sunday's game at Oakland. With Quentin Griffin expected to be back in the lineup, Tatum Bell could be designated the No. 3 running back behind Reuben Droughns and Griffin because Bell could contribute on special teams.
--C Tom Nalen has a tough matchup this week. He'll be going against huge Raiders NT Ted Washington in Oakland's 3-4 defense. Although Nalen is a bit undersized, he's tough, strong and usually finds a way to neutralize big tackles like Washington.
--K Jason Elam might be on his way to the best season of his 12-year career. Through five games Elam has hit 12-of-13 field goals (92.3 percent) and leads all NFL kickers with 45 points. Elam has never made more than 90 percent of his field-goal attempts in a season and his career high in field goals made is 31.
--RB Quentin Griffin practiced at full speed on Wednesday and should be ready for Sunday's game at Oakland. Although Mike Shanahan hasn't named a starter, Reuben Droughns will likely get the nod but Griffin will see some carries.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah probably won't practice this week before Friday, if he practices at all because of a torn quadriceps muscle. DE Anton Palepoi, who the Broncos signed a few weeks ago but hasn't been activated for a game yet, has a chance to be active against Oakland.
-- After WR Jerry Rice met with Al Davis Wednesday evening, there was no immediate outcome in terms of whether the Oakland owner was willing to grant him his release or trade him. Rice practiced Thursday and coach Norv Turner said he would be active and start Sunday against Denver. Rice said there was no news forthcoming out of his meeting with Davis, saying "we just talked football, put our two heads together and had a good talk."
-- RB Tyrone Wheatley (shoulder) practiced more extensively Thursday but the club did not upgrade him from doubtful.
-- LB Travian Smith (knee) did not practice and is still doubtful for the Denver game.
-- QB Rich Gannon was back from Southern California after getting a third opinion on his fractured vertebra but neither the club nor Gannon are willing to venture what the prognosis is. Coach Norv Turner said a decision would be forthcoming sometime next week.
-- CB Phillip Buchanon returned to practice Thursday and is expected to start against Denver.
-- RB Justin Fargas did not practice Thursday but has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Broncos are getting what they were expecting when they traded for cornerback Champ Bailey this offseason and gave him a $63 million contract.
Bailey has helped the Broncos earn the NFL's top ranking in total defense through five weeks. Denver ranks second in passing defense.
The Broncos have played more man-to-man defense this year, with Bailey usually taking the opponent's top receiver out of the game. Most teams have not thrown Bailey's way that often. San Diego only threw Bailey's way once in a Week 3 game, and that came with less than three minutes remaining and the Chargers down by 10 points.
Bailey is used to not getting many balls thrown his way.
"I am," Bailey said. "If I get it then I got to make a play. If I don't, oh well."
Bailey has not only made other teams change their offensive approach, he has made some big tackles as well. Bailey, who is a very sound tackler, had back-to-back tackles against Carolina this week that resulted in the Panthers losing six yards.
The Broncos chart missed tackles, and Bailey hasn't missed one yet this season.
"I'm not surprised people make a big deal about (his tackling ability) because I know a lot of corners that don't tackle," Bailey said. "Hate it with a passion. But I'm not one of them."
Amos Zereoue has been listening to people tell him he can't do things. He's too small and, what's more ... well, he's just too small.
Zereoue has been left with one option: show them. Sunday the Raiders running back would like to show the Denver Broncos he would have been the ideal runner for them when they were looking for backfield help.
"That was definitely one of the teams I was looking at," Zereoue said. "But things happen."
The thing that happened with Zereoue was he didn't get an offer after declaring for free agency from Pittsburgh. He did get one from Oakland, where he figured he'd have a good chance of challenging Tyrone Wheatley or at least getting playing time because his slice and cutback style was so different.
The same style, incidentally, that has made stars out of Broncos' running backs and made them the top rushing team in the NFL over the last decade.
"He would definitely make some people miss, just like No. 22 (Quentin Griffin) is doing up there now," Raiders linebacker Danny Clark said.
Instead, he still had to prove himself in Oakland. In the first game of the season at Pittsburgh, where Zereoue hoped to make a splash, he was inactive. Zereoue did not, and still does not, understand how that happened.
That was then. Now, for two weeks, Zereoue has opened eyes and mouths filling in for the injured Wheatley and vaulting ahead of Justin Fargas, who was the No. 2 back.
Against Houston, Zereoue broke off a 55-yard all-over-the-field touchdown run that made highlight films all week. But even after that run, coach Norv Turner would not declare Zereoue his go-to back. It had something to do with the durability of a back Zereoue's size (5-8, 205 pounds).
Then, last week in Indianapolis, he did it again. This time he ran 56 yards for a touchdown, only it was called back on a holding penalty on guard Frank Middleton.
Those two runs stand as the two longest in Zereoue's NFL career and now they seem to stand prominently in Turner's mind. Still, Zereoue doesn't feel like he's made his point.
"I can't get too high off the highs or too low off the lows," Zereoue said. "It's just a weekly tryout is how I am approaching things. I'm just going to roll with it for now."
That Denver ignored him back in the spring will be motivation enough. That he will be getting a chance to strut his stuff for the home fans for the first time since his breakthrough, is another.
But the last part of it is that he wants people to understand. Don't ignore small packages. Check that.
"I'm not small," he said. "I'm short."
Broncos - Raiders Game Snapshot
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