Three keys: Broncos vs. Raiders

Here are some keys to the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game on Thursday night:


Broncos need to avoid a trap: This is a textbook trap game for Denver. The Broncos (9-3) just won the AFC West title. They are traveling on a short week. They are playing a team that will be emotionally charged after the death of Grady Allen, the father of Oakland coach Dennis Allen. The Broncos visit Baltimore in Week 15 in a game that could go a long way in determining the No. 2 seed and a bye in the first round of the AFC playoffs. This is the type of game a team can come into flat. But Denver is aware all of these factors and will try to do what it takes -- attacking on both sides of the ball, for starters -- to avoid a clunker in Oakland. Coach John Fox is good at keeping his players focused and Peyton Manning is rarely flat. Watch for Denver to try to strike early and take any idea of an upset out of the Raiders’ minds.

Getting Prater on track: Denver kicker Matt Prater is in a bit of a slump, missing four of his past nine field goal attempts. This poor stretch is unusual for Prater, who is usually long and accurate. The Broncos need a reliable Prater in the postseason, so this slump must end soon.

Stop Myers: Oakland tight end Brandon Myers had 14 catches for 130 yards against Cleveland last week. It tied a team record for the most catches in a game. One of Denver’s flaws on defense has been stopping the tight end. Expect the Raiders to try to go to the hot hand in Myers often. Denver must address this early and keep Myers from getting into the end zone.


Playing for Allen: This has been a difficult week for the Raiders. Allen flew to Dallas shortly after Sunday's loss to the Browns to say his final goodbyes to his father, who was 66. He returned to the team Wednesday. Few in the organization knew about Allen’s family issue until after the game. Now that he is back with the team, I expect a spirited effort by his players.

Getting McFadden involved: Barring a late setback, running back Darren McFadden is expected to play Thursday night after missing the past four games with a high-ankle sprain. McFadden was not having a good season prior to his injury, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. He had 34 yards on 13 carries at Denver in Week 4. The Raiders (3-9) hope he comes back from his injury in his 2010/2011 form.

Make some plays on defense: Oakland’s defense has struggled all season. It gave up 169 points in Weeks 9 through 12. The Raiders have allowed an NFL-high 376 points this season and have allowed opponents to score at least 31 points seven times. Denver beat Oakland 37-6 earlier this season; the Broncos have scored at least 30 points eight times. If the Raiders are going to pull off this upset, they will need to create some turnovers and perhaps even score on defense. The defense will have to step up and give Manning trouble -- unlike the last time these two teams met.