In a meeting of the AFC West leader and the division cellar-dweller, the Broncos and Raiders are on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum. Despite a convincing loss at New England on Sunday, the Broncos still have designs on representing the AFC in the Super Bowl again. The Raiders, however, will be looking for their first victory in 51 weeks.
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson preview the game.
Williamson: Jeff, the Raiders will be looking at coaching candidates soon. Do you think coordinators Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio will get long looks elsewhere?
Legwold: Given that the Broncos are poised for another postseason run -- they've had home-field advantage in the AFC in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons -- their two coordinators figure to be on the list.
Both certainly would want to be head coaches -- for Del Rio it would be a second stint after his nine years as the Jacksonville Jaguars coach -- but given the rules regarding the interviews a team would have to be willing to wait.
The Browns tried multiple times to interview Gase leading up to the Super Bowl last January, but Gase didn't want to do anything before the title game and the Browns didn't wait.
They want the right coaching spot and know their value isn't going down; most in the organization here feel like Peyton Manning will play at least one more season, so they won't jump at just anything. Del Rio's been fired as a head coach, so he isn't going to go for a situation that wouldn't give him a good chance to succeed. The demand for Gase isn't going down as long as the team continues the kind of success it's had on offense over the last three seasons.
Bill, Mark Davis elected to fire Dennis Allen. Why did he do that so early in the season, and what are some of the significant things Tony Sparano has tried to do in his stint as interim head coach thus far?
Williamson: The Raiders were not competitive under Allen. They were blown out twice in Allen's four games this season. Firing Allen during the bye week was the right move, as the former Denver defensive coordinator had an 8-28 record as Oakland's coach. Of course, the Raiders have not won under Sparano, either. But they have been more competitive. Sparano has focused on tighter, crisper practices and on using players on what they do best. There have been some improvements, especially on defense. But the bottom line, of course, is victories, and the Raiders are just not there yet.
Jeff, Manning was hard on himself after his loss at New England. Any concern of a slump or was it a long-game issue?
Legwold: It's probably a testament to what people expect of Manning, and what Manning expected of himself, that he can throw for 438 yards on a windy night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and then declare that he stinks.
He followed a loss in Seattle -- 303 yards and one interception to go with his two touchdowns against the Seahawks -- with a 479-yard day and four touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in the team's next game. He hasn't really had a slump in his time with the Broncos.
Offensively, the issue is they haven't always been consistent in the offensive line or in the run game. They already switched out the right tackle in recent weeks -- Chris Clark out, Paul Cornick in -- and if there is one area that needs to improve down the stretch, that's it. Manning has been sacked three times this season on plays when the defense only rushed three players, including one this past Sunday night in New England.
Bill, how has quarterback Derek Carr fared since being put into the starting lineup? Do the Raiders think this is The Guy for the long term at a position they've struggled to fill almost since Rich Gannon's time?
Williamson: Yes, they love Carr. He has struggled the past three weeks, but also has shown flashes of his potential. Most importantly, he has a good grasp on the offense. Carr's leadership, aggressive play and confidence are unwavering. Oakland thinks it has its quarterback for the long haul. That alone makes this season productive, at least, in the long run.
Legwold: When the Broncos swept up the pieces following the Super Bowl loss, John Elway went into the offseason intent on retooling the defense, and the team's spending splurge included signing Ware to a three-year, $30 million guaranteed. And while cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward got large contracts as well, in terms of the salary cap, Ware is the only one that carries all that much dead-money risk beyond this season.
Ware, in his 10th season, also was the oldest player the Broncos signed. So, in short, the Broncos needed to be right on Ware's ability to rebound from an injury-marred, six-sack season in 2013, and they have been so far. In eight games Ware has eight sacks, and the Broncos have picked their spots with him and managed his snap counts.
Miller has played 70 percent of the defensive snaps overall and the Broncos likely will keep to that schedule the rest of the way to keep him fresh.
Miller went through the rehab for his ACL injury and the Broncos could see the progress. He's also back down to 255 pounds or so -- he chose to bulk up last season to almost 270 pounds -- and the weight loss has shown up in that the explosiveness he had in his 18.5-sack 2012 season has returned.
Overall, the defense has played better than last season's model and certainly the pass rush has as well. They still haven't put together the lights-out, four-quarter effort in one game, but they're No. 1 against the run and that gives them plenty of chances to turn Miller and Ware loose in the pass rush. The two have more sacks combined than 12 teams.
Bill, the Raiders really dove in for some older veterans in free agency. Has it paid off for them? And have they helped rookie Khalil Mack?
Williamson: Many of the Raiders' pickups on defense haven't worked. LaMarr Woodley is on injured reserve and Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith have only been serviceable. Cornerback Tarell Brown has been solid. Mack, though, has been terrific. I'm not sure he is doing well because of veteran guidance. I simply think Mack is playing well because he is NFL-ready and a mature, driven kid. Like Carr in the second round, Oakland scored when it took Mack with the No. 5 overall pick.