For those folks who think that the 4-9 Raiders are a lock to lose to the 8-5 Broncos, haven't been paying much attention lately. And when I say lately, I mean in not just recent weeks but recent seasons. Those same people must not know much about this intense rivalry either.
It is well documented that the Raiders haven't had more than five wins in these last five seasons. But despite that futility, they almost always manage to pull out a win against the hated rival Broncos. When the game comes, you can throw the records out the window for the most part. And in this week's game in particular, the Raiders have played better of late (when JaMarcus is not playing that is) while the Broncos have been struggling down the stretch.
Last season the Raiders went into Denver in week 13 and met the Broncos and their AFC West leading 6-4 record. The Broncos were riding high after coming off three straight wins. The next best team in the division was San Diego with a 4-6 record. The Raiders would beat the Broncos on their home field. The Broncos would go 2-3 over the next five games while the Chargers would go 3-2. The two teams would meet up in the final game of the season. The Broncos were 8-7 and the Chargers were 7-8 which means that whichever team won, would win the AFC West and the other would not make the playoffs. The Chargers would beat the Broncos and knock them out of the playoffs in an epic collapse for a team that could have basically locked up the AFC West with a win over the 2 win Raiders in week 12. The collapse would signal the end of the Mike Shanahan era in Denver and the trading of QB Jay Cutler as well.
In week 13 of the 2007 season, the Broncos came to Oakland and the Raiders beat them in what was the Broncos' last chance to catch the Chargers yet again. The Chargers were 6-5 heading into week 13 while the Broncos were 5-6 which means that a win would have kept them within one game. But a loss to the Raiders cemented the end of their playoffs hopes as they would finish the season 7-9.
The 2006 Raiders was the worst team the franchise has ever fielded. They met up with the Broncos in week 10 and although the Raiders had just 2 wins the entire season, they played the Broncos very tough and came up just short in a 17-13 loss. But even with the win, the Broncos would finish at just 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
In 2004 the Raiders edged out the Broncos in week 12 in the snow in Denver to keep them from winning the AFC West. The game included one of the greatest catches in Raiders history in which Ronald Curry made a leaping, one-handed catch in the back of the end zone (see video below). The Broncos would lose the week after to the Chargers which meant that despite going 3-1 the rest of the way, the Broncos still ended the season two games out of the lead at 10-6. They would be destroyed by the Colts 49-24 in the first round of the playoffs just as they had the year prior when they were laughed out of Indianapolis 41-10.
The Raiders have split the season series with the Broncos three of the last five years. All of those Bronco defeats were late in the season and all were costly for the Broncos. 2005 was the only season the Broncos weren't coming into their matchup against the Raiders desperate for a win. That season they won the AFC West easily with a 13-3 record. And after beating the fraud Patriots in the first round, how can you stay mad at them?
Fast forward to this season in which the Broncos started the season 6-0 and have gone 2-5 since then. They beat the Chargers in week 6 to remain undefeated and headed into their bye week with a commanding 4 game lead in the AFC West. Then they lost four in a row and the Chargers haven't lost a game and that, as they say, was that. Now they are clinging to the hopes of a wildcard berth. And The Raiders are hoping yet again to smash those hopes. Just as they have done the past two seasons. The wildcard race is a tight one with several teams hovering just above .500. The Broncos are at 8-5 and while a win doesn't guarantee anything, a loss could be devastating.
When the Raiders played the Broncos in week three, the Raiders were hampered by a few things. The first was JaMarcus Russell, who had just 61 yards passing and 2 interceptions (Charlie Frye is slated as the starter this week). Next was Darren McFadden coughing up the ball three times because he was being misused as a starting, between the tackles runner. Third was starting Darrius Heyward-Bey who had no catches, ran poorly executed routes all day and caused an interception when he fell down on a pass route. Fourth was the injury to Chaz Schilens who is now healthy and starting as he should. And fifth, they were overconfident after comingoff a win and now the Raidersare coming off a bad loss so overconfidence surely won't be an issue.
These are two completely different teams than their first meeting this season. So, regardless of who comes out on top, it should be a much more highly contested matchup than it was in their first meeting. The fact that this week's game is in Denver actually seems to serve the Raiders as two of their last three wins versus the Broncos were at Invesco/Mile High.
In this game the Broncos have everything to gain and the Raiders have nothing to lose-- a position the Raiders have become all too familiar with in recent seasons. But after taking down last year's playoff hopefuls in the Broncos, Texans and Buccaneers, it seems the Raiders play their best football in these situations.