Broncos-Raiders preview

For a rare time, the Oakland Raiders survive the NFL's blackout rule. Sunday's matchup between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum will be televised locally.

A late smattering of buyers snapped up most of the remaining 3,000 tickets on sale early Friday, meaning the game was declared a sellout before the 1:15 p.m. deadline. The deadline is normally Thursday but the Oakland Raiders received a 24-hour extension beyond Thursday's normal sellout deadline because of Monday's Columbus Day holiday.

There are a couple of other compelling storylines. The game is a must win for Oakland (2-3) over the AFC West division-leading Denver Broncos (4-1) or else the 2004 season could head the same direction as last year's 4-12 debacle. Could this be the last game Jerry Rice plays in a Raiders uniform?

Here's a closer look:

Raiders on offense: The first thing the Raiders need Sunday is for quarterback Kerry Collins to take care of the ball. The feast-or-famine Collins has thrown six interceptions in his two starts since replacing the injured Rich Gannon. Oakland is already hurting in the backfield without running back Tyrone Wheatley. Amos Zereoue is a nice change of pace in a best case scenario. That's not a good sign going up against the NFL's top-rated defense, making it doubly important not to commit turnovers.

As for the wide receivers, Ronald Curry continues to be the productive running mate alongside Jerry Porter. After adamantly requesting a trade before the Oct. 19 deadline, there is still no movement for Rice. Will Sunday be his last as a Raider? Rookie tight end Courtney Anderson has moved up to second on the depth chart.

Broncos on offense: Denver presents its share of problems here as well. The Broncos are getting surprising production from running back Reuben Droughns. Well, not so shocking for those who have seen every Bronco running back imaginable produce under head coach Mike Shanahan. The Raiders run defense is not the sieve it was last season but has had trouble stopping the run the last two weeks.

Quarterback Jake Plummer has experienced a revival of sorts since coming to Denver in a trade from Arizona. Plummer is also a threat in terms of running and is the first non-pocket passer Oakland has faced this season.

Special teams: Joe Avezzano was hired to fix the Raiders special teams. The coverage units have been somewhat better but penalties on special teams were a key note to last week's 35-14 loss to Indianapolis.

Both teams boast outstanding kickers in Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland) and Jason Elam (Denver). Raiders punter Shane Lechler continues to set off booming punts, averaging 49.9 yards per attempt.

Bottom line: The storylines are always there when two teams do not like each other. With the exception of winning three of four against Denver in 2001-2002, the Raiders have had their troubles against Denver. Oakland needs a win here or else it will drop to 2-4, making it a long climb back into contention.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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