The Oakland Raiders are pretenders to the AFC West Division Title. Sure they can get up to play the San Diego Chargers, but they don't have the talent and mental makeup to do it week in and week out in the NFL. DVOA backs me up on this one showing how bad the Raiders have been while still managing to win games. Their saving grace this weekend is a home tilt with a Denver Broncos team that is trying to reach new lows in franchise history.
Here's a look at how the Raiders have done this year:
And here's how disappointing the Broncos have been:
Aside from the Raiders run offense and run defense and the Broncos passing offense everything here looks pretty ugly. Let's see if we can dig in and find something a little more interesting.
First things first, we need to head to the old rumor mill. Remember how the Broncos passing game was one of the few parts of the game above league average? Well, that might change as just this week we learned that Denver QB Kyle Orton has some bruised ribs that are limiting him in practice. If he can't go it might be the Tim Tebow show this Sunday afternoon. Or maybe not. As Orton sat out some of practice both Tebow and former Browns QB Brady Quinn took reps with the first team. Interim coach Eric Studesville doesn't appear too confident in his rookie QB. This seems odd since the Broncos are seemingly going nowhere fast this year. What could it hurt to get a full game of experience under center for a rookie QB in a meaningless game? I guess a lot when you are trying to prove that you are more than your interim label. My gut says that Orton will play.
Recently I mentioned in my AFC West Review and Preview columns that the Denver running game was fixed. That the injuries healed on the offensive and with the running backs and the Broncos could pound the rock with the best of them. Well, perhaps because of the coaching or because the passing offense wasn't a threat, the running game stalled out against Arizona of all teams. They'd had 4 straight weeks of effective running and then fell back into their old ways. Maybe DVOA was right to remind us all about how bad they were once, but that was with different personnel. The Raiders are not the best team to get that part of the Bronco offense back on track, but Oakland may still be missing stud rookie Rolando McClain and has been known to lapse from time to time.
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At the start of the season many hyped up the Raiders as finally having a QB to rely on after years of terrible play from Jamarcus Russell. Jason Campbell was here to rescue him. Sure, he had his faults and wasn't going to earn himself any Pro Bowl nods, but all they need was some semblance of competence. However, the coaching staff must have been expecting more out of him because very early on he was benched for Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell and Gradkowski weren't two unknowns that you should hold tryouts with. They are veterans with plenty of game tape to analyze. You would think that you would painstakingly spend your offseason, training camp and preseason figuring out who is better and then making a decision. To go back on that decision after a couple of games means that you can't trust your own abilities to evaluate the quarterback position. And if that's the case, you'll never succeed there.
Anyway, Campbell has been re-installed as the starter after an inevitable Gradkowski injury and has proven to the coaching staff why they originally thought he was the guy. The last two games have been two of the best passing performances of the season for the Raiders. Even just looking at him play the position gives the impression that he's comfortable out there and knows what he's doing. This game should be a piece of cake for him since Denver's secondary is one of the worst in the league.
Running the ball has been the Raiders bread and butter this year and probably won't face much resistance from the Broncos. However, the Broncos were showing signs that they could stop the run with 5 straight above average performances from week 8 through week 13. But, then came the terror that was the Arizona Cardinals game and they let one of the worst running teams in the league have one of their best games of the season. With all the turmoil in Denver it's hard to say what kind of run defense will show up. I'm betting it's the bad one.