The Denver Broncos will play the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon, and everything points to this being a rowdy, noisy affair at Sports Authority Field in Denver. Not only is this the first AFC West opponent that the Broncos have faced this season, but this is their most hated (at least from a fan standpoint) rival in all of football. It's terribly important to both the Broncos and their fans that they come away with a win Sunday.
Key Will Be Stopping Raiders Rushing Game
Overconfidence should not be an issue for Denver, especially on defense. The Broncos should remember that they lost to the Raiders in their home opener in 2011 in large part to not being able to stop the run. The Raiders gained 190 yards on the ground, allowing for their kicker Sebastian Janikowski to make three field goals (including an NFL-record-tying 63-yard one) in their 23-20 victory over Denver.
Broncos fans also remember a devastating rout by the Raiders in 2010 when Oakland went up 38-0 midway through the second quarter before winning 59-14. In that game, the Raiders ran for 328 yards and embarrassed the franchise and its fans. It was probably the first nail in the coffin for then-head coach Josh McDaniels.
I don't care that Oakland has had a hard time running the ball so far in 2013. They always seem to play their best against the Broncos, and it will a shorthanded Denver defense that must find a way to stop the Raiders. The Broncos will be without suspended middle linebacker Joe Mays and (likely) reserve right outside linebacker Nate Irving (concussion suffered last Sunday in game against the Houston Texans). They're also still missing starting linebacker D.J. Williams who is still serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy.
Early Lead Is Key
The Broncos need to get off to a fast start, and that means that Peyton Manning must get the offense clicking at the beginning of the game. The offense has only scored five first quarter points (and only 20 in the second quarter) in three games total. A great deal of that can be attributed to Manning and company learning a new offense while facing some of the toughest defenses in the league (Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans).
Still, the Broncos need to come out with a balanced attack, control the ball, and be smart. It's certainly better to play with the lead than to have to rely on another fourth quarter comeback. It sure would be nice for the Broncos to get to practice how to play with a lead after such a rough early schedule. A win on Sunday puts the Broncos at 2-2. A loss would be particular bad for their hopes of a playoff berth this season.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor for the Yahoo contributor Network. A lifelong football fan, she began following the Denver Broncos after moving to Colorado in 2001.
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