Parity in place, but expect a Broncos win vs. rival Raiders

The good news is the Denver Broncos are in second place in the AFC West.

The bad news is the Broncos are in last place in the AFC West.

Denver has the same record as the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions. All were playoff teams last season, and all sit at 1-2.

Eyebrows officially have been raised.

Teams on top in their divisions at the one-sixth pole include the 3-0 Phoenix Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.

Others sharing division leads include the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills.

If the playoffs were to start today, in the AFC it would be Cincinnati at San Diego, Buffalo at the Jets, and Houston and Baltimore would have byes. In the NFC, San Francisco would be at Dallas, Minnesota at Chicago, and Arizona and Atlanta would have byes.

This is God’s way of telling us former National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s dream of parity is officially in place.

And that parity, especially from an AFC West viewpoint, should, despite disappointments the past two weeks, give Bronco fans reason for hope.

Early last week in the Wild Wacky West, it looked as if everything was going to go Denver’s way.

The Chargers, starting a bit earlier than the Broncos, fell behind Atlanta by two touchdowns at home, the Chiefs were getting hammered by the Saints in New Orleans, and the Raiders dropped behind the Steelers by 10.

The Chargers never were in the game with the Falcons, losing 27-3, but the Chiefs and Raiders rallied for wins.

So here we sit, San Diego at 2-1, the Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs at 1-2.  And, oh yes, the Raiders are in Denver, where they have proven to be a huge nuisance of late, winning the last four.

Must win, baby? Already?

Let’s put it this way: It certainly won’t hurt the chances of the team that wins today in Denver.

We have watched the Broncos take on three powerful teams in the Steelers, Falcons and Texans (the best of the lot by my reckoning), with all three close affairs even though the Broncos have been forced to play from far behind in the last two.

Peyton Manning has shown he will move the football through the air once he figures out what the opposing defenses are giving him, although he admits it has taken him much longer to figure that out than he would like.

Willis McGahee has run the ball well in spurts, but he has not had the ball much in the second half as Denver has been forced to abandon the run.

What we haven’t seen enough of is Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker or other receivers getting open downfield, and we should see more of that as the games roll by with Manning’s arm getting stronger with each game.

Defensively, much has been made of the Broncos inability to stop teams on third down, and much has been made of the team’s ability to stop the opposing running game. What we need to start watching for is Denver’s ability to put pressure on the passer.  With the exception of the last series of the Steeler game in which Denver came up with three sacks, there has been little or no pressure.

The Broncos through three games have come up with just seven sacks and two interceptions. Those numbers have to improve starting today.

Offensively, Oakland has changed strategies a bit, with quarterback Carson Palmer doing most of the work and averaging more than 250 yards passing per game. The Raiders’ rushing game was terrible the first two weeks in losses, but Darren McFadden picked up 113 yards last week in the win over the Steelers.

Denver has to stop McFadden on first down and then turn its attention downfield and come up with a key pick or two. Stopping McFadden will be tougher today if middle linebacker Joe Mays doesn’t play because of a suspension.

That’s one key. The other thing to watch will be the Raiders’ defense. It’s been terrible, ranking in the bottom third against both the run and the pass. The Raiders have only three sacks on the year, and they allowed almost 400 yards passing last week to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers and almost 500 total yards the previous week in getting hammered by Miami and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill.

My friend Bob, who watches with a keen eye each week and is not afraid to voice opinions, says Denver wins this one by 14. I think he’s a bit too optimistic.

I take my 1-2 record on picking with or against Denver and say Manning & Co. come out on top 31-27.


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