Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-1, 43.5 o/u)
The best division in football, the AFC West, will see its top two teams square off for supremacy this Sunday night (November 6, 8:30 PM ET) when the Denver Broncos (6-2 SU, 6-2 ATS) head west to Oakland to take on the Raiders (6-2 SU, 5-3 ATS) at the Oakland Coliseum.
Since dropping back-to-back games to the Falcons and Chargers, the Broncos have gotten themselves back on track, earning victories over the Texans and Chargers in the last two weeks. With a record of 6-2, it’s tough to criticize them too much; but, their offense has remained rather sluggish (27th in total offense), and Trevor Siemian still struggles to push the ball down the field (27th in passing). As a result, their two best weapons – Demaryius Thomas (535 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (567 yards) – are barely on pace to break 1,000 yards receiving.
However, with a first-year starter at quarterback, those numbers were to be expected. What can’t be overlooked is the inconsistency of the ground game. The Broncos offense ranks 20th in rushing, averaging a mere 3.9 yards per carry (23rd). On the bright side, the offensive line is showing some signs of improvement, and Gary Kubiak appears to be opening up the playbook a little more as Siemian gains experience in the league.
As was the case for the majority of its Super Bowl run in 2015, Denver has its defense to thank for its standing in the AFC West. The unit ranks third in total defense and fifth in scoring. On top of that, Von Miller (8.5 sacks) and company are tied for the league-lead with 26 sacks, and the unit as a whole continues to find ways to put points on the board (three defensive touchdowns). They will be without one key member for a second straight week, though, as Aqib Talib will give his back another week of rest. Fortunately, the man who filled in for him last weekend, Bradley Roby, proved that he’s not just a nickel corner, winning the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award thanks, in part, to a 51-yard pick-six.
If the Broncos want to remind the rest of the West who has owned the division over the last five years, they’ll need Roby to have another big performance, as he will be lining up across from Amari Cooper (52 receptions for 787 yards and two touchdowns) and Michael Crabtree (47 receptions for 569 yards and six touchdowns).
Cooper and Crabtree have been rocks for third-year quarterback Derek Carr, who’s posting MVP-like numbers in 2016 (214/323 for 2,321 yards, 17 touchdowns, and three interceptions; 100.9 passer rating). While Carr is receiving a lot of praise from the media, he better be forwarding the love to his offensive line, which has surrendered a league-low nine sacks this season.
If they want to keep him clean this Sunday, the Raiders staff will have to ensure Donald Penn and Austin Howard (or Menelik Watson, if he’s healthy) get help from the tight ends and running backs to keep Denver’s edge rushers contained.
Although the Raiders do possess the fourth-ranked passing attack, they have also enjoyed success on the ground, ranking eighth in rushing; and if Oakland is smart, they’ll stick to handing the ball off against the league’s 23rd-ranked run defense.
If the Raider offense is the Cinderella of the football world right now, the defense is one of the ugly stepsisters. It ranks 31st in total defense and 22nd in scoring and has been equally bad against the pass and run (ranking 27th and 28th, respectively). In order to win this game, Oakland will have to at least tighten up against the run. If they continue to allow 4.8 yards per carry (30th) against the Broncos, they will find themselves trying to play from behind against the league’s best pass-rush.
Banking on the Raiders actually executing on defense is not something I am willing to do. Devontae Booker will have a lot more room to run this week and will shoulder the load for the Broncos offensively. Without corner Sean Smith, Denver will have an even more obvious mismatch on the outsides, and Siemian will be able to take advantage of his two receivers off play-action.
The Bronco defense has been able to close out just about every game-sealing opportunity they’ve been given since 2015, and that won’t change this week. Oakland won’t be able to rely on any late-game miracles in this one, as Derek Carr will have Miller and DeMarcus Ware in his face all day. Great defense will beat out good offense.
Pick: Denver (+1).
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.