Raiders-Broncos preview

The latest matchup between these historic AFC West rivals will be a Sunday night telecast on ESPN. The last time the two teams played, The Home & Garden Network would have been the appropriate channel because the Denver Broncos buried the Oakland Raiders 31-3.

Except for a 34-10 blowout win in 2002 that turned the Oakland Raiders season around, the Denver Broncos homefield has been a house of horrors for the Raiders the last 10 years.

The Raiders (3-7) have to win out to even have a remote chance at the playoffs but there's a better chance of finding a four-leafed clover in a wheat-field. Denver, meanwhile, needs to win to stay atop the AFC West. The Broncos and San Diego Chargers are 7-3 and tied for first place.

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 good news is that the feast-or-famine Collins has played much better the last two weeks. Oakland's running game, however, has been the least productive among the 32 NFL teams. That's not a good sign going up against the vastly improved Bronco defense. The Raiders will catch a break in that defensive end Trevor Pryce and defensive tackle Luther Ellis have both been ruled out by head coach Mike Shanahan because of injury.

Despite two costly dropped passes, Ronald Curry continues to be the productive running mate alongside Jerry Porter.

Broncos on offense: Denver presents its share of problems here as well. The Broncos are getting surprising production from running back Reuben Droughns, who tore up the Raiders for 176 rushing yards in the first meeting. Well, his production is not so shocking for those who have seen every Bronco running back imaginable produce under Shanahan. The Raiders run defense is not the sieve it was last season but has not offered much resistence in stopping the run throughout the season.

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 not enormously so.

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

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. It's hard to imagine that trend changing this week.

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


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