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Week 14: Broncos-Raiders preview

The SportsXchange

Denver at Oakland

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at O.co Coliseum, Oakland, Calif. - TV: NFL Network

*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan

*Keys to the game: The Broncos sealed the AFC West division title last week but home-field advantage will be a fight to the finish. Denver whipped Oakland all over the field in a 37-6 win at Denver in Week 4. The Broncos are cruising with a six-game winning streak and dominated third-down situations in the earlier meeting. Oakland went 1-for-15, and unless Darren McFadden returns to breathe life into the running game, the time for the Raiders to attempt something drastic -- QB Terrelle Pryor in a cameo role, perhaps? -- could be near. A season-long trend of sleepwalking through the first quarter continues to place most every game in the hands of QB Carson Palmer and a weary defense nicked last week by injuries. If Oakland is without FS Matt Giordano (concussion) on three days' rest, the middle of the field could be a first-down breeding grounds for QB Peyton Manning. The Raiders can't match speed with the Broncos and have matchup problems dotting the offensive formation, starting with WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Manning played pitch-and-catch with his running backs and tight ends in the first meeting -- 16 of his 30 completions were to players at those two positions -- and easily adjusted to the Raiders' changing schemes.

*Matchup to watch - Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard vs. Raiders TE Brandon Myers: Myers leads the team in receptions -- he has 31 more catches, 69, than top wideout Denarius Moore -- and most of his routes amount to long handoffs. He's not a great athlete, and Woodyard has excelled in coverage.

*Player spotlight - Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno: He wasn't discounted as spare parts despite being buried on the depth chart, and has 24 touches (eight receptions, 40 rushing attempts) in each of the past two games to balance the Broncos' offense since Willis McGahee was injured.

*Fast facts: Raiders coach Dennis Allen was defensive coordinator of the Broncos in 2011. Broncos coach John Fox was Raiders' defensive coordinator in 1994-95. ... Palmer (2003) and Manning (1998) were No. 1 overall draft picks.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Much is made of the Broncos' age on a short week that includes travel, but the veteran approach to preparation pays off against an anemic Oakland outfit outscored 92-44 over the past three games.

*Our pick: Broncos 30-17
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