It wasn’t pretty, but the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers at Mile High last Sunday 19-27, and maintained a tenuous tie with the Raiders in the AFC West.
With both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders also winning last week, the Broncos are hanging on to their hopes of winning the division and advancing to yet another playoff berth by a thin thread.
Once again it was the sheer grit and determination of the defense that won the game last week.
The offense sputtered and back fired their way through the entire game, starting out slow and failing to put together cohesive drives.
But enough about the anemic offense for now. Let’s look at what the Broncos will be facing next week against the Raiders.
Years ago the Bronco/Raider rivalry was one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL. The Raiders fortunes turned sour after they lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Bucks 21-48.
Since then the Raiders were the mutant cousin kept in the basement in the AFC West: until this year.
This year the Raiders have some serious weapons on both sides of the ball and a quarterback who is on track to be this year’s MVP.
Raider QB Derek Carr led his team to 5 road wins this season, including last Sunday’s 30-24 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carr threw for a franchise record 513 yards and 4 TD’s in that game.
Carr has two outstanding wide receivers. Second year wide out Amari Cooper has 52 receptions for 787 yards, 2 TD’s and is averaging 15.1 yards per catch this season. On the other side of the line Michael Crabtree has accumulated 569 yards and 6 TD’s on 47 catches.
Last week against the Bucs, Crabtree had 8 receptions for 108 yards and Cooper had 12 catches for 173 yards. These two are a formidable offensive weapon.
While Crabtree and Cooper are the super stars of the receiving corps for the Raiders, they spread the ball around. Seth Roberts, Mychal Rivera, and tackle Donald Penn all scored TD’s last week.
Denver’s defense owns the distinction of giving up the least points in the AFC this year. Not only is the Denver D stingy at allowing points, they lead the league in points off of turnovers and lead the NFL in sacks with 26.
Denver’s “No FlyZone” leads the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed at 183 yards per game.
Unfortunately, the Bronco’s Achilles heal is the offense.
Without a run game, the Broncos can’t seem to put together sustained drives. Bronco leading rusher CJ Anderson is out indefinitely and his replacement, Devontae Booker was only able to eek out 53 yards on 19 carries last week.
The offensive line is not opening holes and is getting way too many holding and false start penalties that too often wind up stalling drives.
Since 2011 the Broncos have won the AFC West 4 times and made the playoffs as a wild card in 2011.
All division games are a dog fight. Every time two division teams step on the field the division title is on the line.
Match the offensive strength of the Raiders against the strength of Denver’s defense and next week will be an epic battle.
This year the AFC West has 3 teams good enough to win the division. The current standings are evidence of that.
Next week’s game in Oakland is going to be the toughest test the Broncos will face so far this year.
It’s going to be a battle of the Oakland offense against the Bronco defense. The Bronco offense will have to score and sustain drives to keep the Raider offense on the bench. To do that, they will have to have a solid run game. Short of this goal being achieved, this will be a long day for the Broncos.