NFL on Sling: Broncos and Raiders Battle for AFC West Lead

Nov 06, 2016 by Sling Staff

Denver Broncos (6-2) vs Oakland Raiders (6-2)
8:30pm ET on NBC

This one should be a lot of fun, pitting two teams tied atop the AFC West, one the top-ranked defense in the league, the other with the fourth-ranked offense, both of them rated top-5 overall by Pro Football Focus.

The Broncos last week handed the Chargers their fifth one-possession loss of the season, 27-19, while becoming the first team all year to hold Phillip Rivers and Co. under 20 points. Going by passer rating, it was Rivers’ worst day in two years, as he completed just 20 of 47 for 267 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions – one of which was returned for a TD, while getting sacked 4 times. The Denver D’s performance was all the more impressive given that it came without resident lunatic Aqib Talib, who was sidelined with a lower-back issue, and starting OLB Brandon Marshall, who’s nursing a hamstring injury. The status of both men this weekend is up in the air.

Trevor Siemian’s day under center was only marginally better than Rivers’, mostly because he won, as he connected on 20 of 38 for 276 yards, 0 TDs, a pick-six, and 2 fumbles. Siemian has lost a little something in the 3 games since coming back from an injury sustained in a Week 4 win over Tampa, completing just 64 of 113 (56.6%) for 663 yards, 2 TDs and an interception. Nonetheless, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders remain on pace to each top 1,000 yards for the third season in a row under a total of three QBs – those dudes can play a bit.

The Raiders, not surprisingly, are a different kettle of fish under QB Derek Carr: a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of team that loves to stretch the field with Amari Cooper’s speed (52 receptions, 787 yards), and kill you underneath with Michael Crabtree (47/569, a league-leading 6 TDs). After making the Pro Bowl last season as a sophomore, Carr has taken another step forward, his 66.3 completion percentage, 2,323 yards and 17 touchdowns all on pace for career highs, while also on pace for just 6 INTs, which would be half of his previous career low. Carr was out of his head last week against Tampa, completing 40 of 59 for 513 yards and 4 TDs in a game Oakland needed OT to win 30-24. How does a QB with a 117 passer rating need OT? Well, Carr went 3-and-out on the first drive, lost a fumble on the second, then got whistled for intentional grounding to create 4th-and-21, before finally driving for a field goal halfway through the second quarter… things got easier from there, but Sebastian Janikowski missed a potential game-winning 50-yarder with the clock winding down.

Overall Oakland’s defense is middle of the road, but they’ve only given up 300+ yards to some of the league’s better QBs (Brees, Ryan, Rivers), while containing the also-rans (Flacco, Bortles, Winston, Mariota), so they shouldn’t have too much trouble with Siemian. Where they run into trouble is on the ground, already having given up 1,000 yards in just half a season – basically they turn their opponents into Eric Dickerson, and DeMarco Murray and Spencer Ware each ran 180+ yards on them. Denver’s CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker can exploit weak run defenses, but Anderson’s out for the year, and Booker’s nursing a bad shoulder.

It’s gonna be strength against strength, with Oakland’s high-flying vertical offense testing Denver’s bruising defense. Coming into this year, Carr’s just 1-3 against the Broncos, but two of those losses came against a healthy Peyton Manning in 2014, and Carr has definitely stepped up his game. But as the saying goes, you wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man, and the Broncos are defending world champs.

And here’s Sunday' regional action on FOX:

1pm ET

Dallas Cowboys (6-1) vs Cleveland Browns (0-8)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) vs New York Giants (4-3)
Detroit Lions (4-4) vs Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

4pm ET

Carolina Panthers (2-5) vs Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
New Orleans Saints (3-4) vs. San Francisco 49ers (1-6)

NBC and FOX are each available to Sling Blue subscribers in select markets.

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