Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders take on the Denver Broncos in a key early-season matchup of AFC West rivals. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
OAKLAND RAIDERS (2-1) AT DENVER BRONCOS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High: CBS, announcers Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 61-50-2. The Broncos won the most recent meeting 24-6 in Denver in Week 17 of last season with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr out with a broken fibula. Backup QB Matt McGloin started and was injured and was replaced by QB Connor Cook. The loss cost the Raiders the AFC West division title, and they lost the following week 27-14 to Houston in the wild-card round with Cook at quarterback.
KEYS TO THE GAME: For the Broncos, it starts with eliminating their own mistakes. Denver has six turnovers in its first three games, and opponents have cashed in on those giveaways, turning them into four touchdowns and a field goal that account for nearly half (31 of 64) of the points surrendered by the Broncos so far this season. Defensively, the Broncos will first try to contain Oakland’s running game. Even though Raiders playmakers Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have caused problems to plenty of foes, the Broncos have generally been successful at containing them. If they can limit mistakes and force the Raiders to pass the football, they’ll have control of the game and a good chance to be 3-1 at their bye.
Look for the Raiders to challenge their offensive and defensive lines after getting pushed around by Washington. There won’t be a lot of complicated schemes — just beat the person in front of you. The Raiders defensive line did little against the Redskins in terms of pressure and although Washington didn’t get a lot of yards on the ground, the Raiders were softened up by aggressive play. The Raiders offensive line, the highest paid in the NFL, had a rare off day. Look for Todd Downing to call a game that will allow the line to assert its dominance after a stinging setback.
–Raiders WR Michael Crabtree vs. Broncos CB Aqib Talib. Talib angered Crabtree in last season’s second game by tearing off the chain around his neck, an act clearly designed to get in the receiver’s head. Crabtree is coming off a one-catch game against Washington after which Josh Norman called him out for popping off in pregame about having big numbers. Whether Crabtree did this or not, only Norman knows. Crabtree never talks to the media. But the Raiders wideout caught 12 passes on 13 targets in Week 1 and 2, and was totally taken out of the game by Norman in Week 3. Look for Talib to attempt something similar.
–Broncos LT and RT Garett Bolles and Menelik Watson vs. Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack. Watson had his steadiest game last week against Buffalo, but he has allowed six sacks this season, and the Raiders will surely test their 2013 draft pick who departed in free agency. Bolles has been solid in his first three games, although he struggled at times against Buffalo as he played the entire game one week after suffering a lower-leg bruise. Mack has seven career sacks in six games against the Broncos.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Questionable: CB Gareon Conley (shin), WR Michael Crabtree (chest), S Keith McGill (foot)
–Questionable: WR Cody Latimer (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Running back C.J. Anderson’s 32-yard run in the second quarter at Buffalo was his longest gain since Dec. 28, 2015, when he sprinted 39 yards into the open field with a touchdown against the Bengals. Anderson has three runs of at least 20 yards this season; he had just one run of 20-plus yards last year. The upgrades to the offensive line and Anderson’s commitment to being in better condition — which led him to take up distance cycling in the offseason — have helped him rediscover his burst.
FAST FACTS: Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch has 75 touchdowns since entering the NFL in 2007, which marks the second-most touchdowns in the league during that time. … Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders has three touchdown catches in his past five home games. … Raiders S Reggie Nelson has 35 interceptions in the past 11 seasons, which leads all active players. … Broncos LB Von Miller has compiled five sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up in his past seven games. Miller also has recorded 16 sacks in his previous 16 games against division opponents and will try to keep up that ratio on Sunday.
PREDICTION: The Raiders stand a much better chance to win with Derek Carr under center instead of Matt McGloin, per last meeting. However, look for home-field advantage to be a difference-maker in a narrow game.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 34-23.