The Denver Broncos will renew an old rivalry with the Oakland Raiders Sunday night, and for the first time in several years, the game will matter in the standings for both teams. The Raiders have been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season, going 6-2 during the first half of the season. They are in a tie atop the AFC West with the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.
With the Kansas City Chiefs 5-2 on the season, the AFC West is suddenly one of the best divisions in football, which means Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Raiders will have a huge impact on which team has the inside track on a division title, and which team might have to settle for a wild card spot later in the season. Looking at Sunday’s showdown from Denver’s perspective, here are five Broncos players who will have a big impact on the outcome of the game against the Raiders.
C.J. Anderson is hurt, and Denver’s rushing attack is now completely centered around Booker, who is a rookie out of Utah. After splitting time with Anderson for much of the season, Booker is suddenly Denver’s primary rusher. The rookie has managed to find the end zone in each of the past two games, but he also fumbled the ball in both games, which is a concern for the Broncos. Booker also averaged a mere 2.8 yards per rush last week against the Chargers, so there are some definite questions about him heading into Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
It doesn’t help matters that the Denver Post reported that Booker is nursing some soreness after last week’s game against the Chargers. However, the Broncos are short on options at running back as long as Anderson is out, so they need Booker to step up and produce. The Broncos need a steady running game to help take the pressure off of quarterback Trevor Siemian.
The Oakland Raiders won't have an easy out against these Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football on NBC. https://t.co/CQW7xkwMiV— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) November 2, 2016
The Broncos have begun to give up chunk plays in the running game, asserts Jeff Legwold of ESPN, and it’s starting to become an issue for an otherwise dominant defense. This puts a lot of pressure on middle linebacker Todd Davis to be better and help prevent the big play. Davis is one of the team’s top tacklers, but the Raiders have one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL, so Davis needs to help prevent Oakland from creating big plays with their running game. If the Raiders are forced to throw the ball, Denver’s pass rush could make an impact, but only if Davis does more to stop the run.
Aqib Talib missed last week’s game for the Broncos, and while Roby did a great job of filling in, the Denver secondary will face a much stiffer test this week against the receiving tandem of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, who will be far more difficult to face if Talib is out again. Roby has been great during his time with the Broncos, but he’s always played a supporting role behind Talib and Chris Harris, so if he starts in place of Talib again this week, it’ll be the toughest test of his career.
Denver’s offensive line has been problematic at times this season, and Stephenson has been one of the worst offenders, struggling with penalties and poor performance. The Raiders usually have Khalil Mack attacking the quarterback’s blindside, meaning he faces the left tackle, but considering Stephenson’s struggles this year, they may have Mack lineup on that side of the line in hopes of getting after Siemian and creating disturbances in Denver’s backfield. Stephenson will need to step up for the Broncos this week, or else Mack could have a big impact on the team and prevent the Broncos from moving the ball consistently against Oakland’s defense.
The Denver Broncos' Defense Could Be Even Better Than Last Year https://t.co/1KJghHRh3E— numberFire NFL (@numberFire_NFL) November 1, 2016
The Raiders have a lot of size and strength at cornerback with David Amerson and Sean Smith, but will those big corners be able to keep up with the speed and quickness of Sanders? The Broncos have struggled to get Sanders involved the last few weeks, but if they spot a matchup advantage against Oakland’s bigger corners, they might try to exploit it. Sanders could be a big key this week, and if the Broncos have success throwing the ball against the Raiders, he could be a big reason why.
[Featured Image by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images]