You don't like to use the term "must win" in Week 3 of the regular season but Monday's matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos is about as close to that notion without actually being there.
Objectively, Denver (2-0) should beat Oakland (1-1) because it is playing much better. Does that mean it will? Of course not because this rivalry very aptly fits the notion "throw out the records."
Look no further than last season when Denver entered a midseason Monday night home game against Oakland with a 6-2 record and leading the AFC West. The Raiders, who had not won in Denver since 1994, were 4-4 and on a four-game losing streak. Easy win for Denver right? Not quite. Oakland blew out the Broncos 34-10 for a season saving victory to start a run of winning seven of eight games.
The current situation is marginally similar. Denver has beaten its first two foes (Cincinnati and San Diego) convincingly on the road. Oakland, meanwhile, has only looked like a shell of the team that won the AFC Championship last season.
The Raiders struggled in a 25-20 loss at Tennessee and in a 23-20 win over Cincinnati. Oakland struggling in the former contest is no surprise since Tennessee figures to be one of the better teams in the NFL.
The fact that the Raiders scraped by the Bengals by the skin of their teeth, however, is enough to at least be concerned. Oakland was without Jerry Porter, Rod Woodson and Anthony Dorsett coupled with the idea that Cincinnati appears to be better under first-year head coach Marvin Lewis. The Raiders, however, were outplayed by Cincinnati and should not have been in a position where there was even the threat of overtime.
When Oakland entered Denver last season on a four-game losing skid, it entered the contest all but eulogized by the fans and media. The Raiders, however, were moving the ball well in that losing streak but was having trouble finishing their drives. Oakland is not necessarily being buried but it is teetering with its offense having scored just three touchdowns. There were times the Raiders achieved that feat in one half last season.
Again, Denver should win this contest but in the NFL there is the whole matter of playing the game first. The Raiders, however, need to turn their performance around sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it lags behind in the division race.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org