12/28/2014 10:45 AM
Denver -14 over Oakland:
While a loss last Monday night to Cincinnati ended hopes of home field advantage throughout the playoffs, Denver (11-4) hopes Peyton Manning can bounce back from one of his worst performances in 3 seasons as a Bronco. Elected to the Pro Bowl for the 14th consecutive season, Manning struggled in a 37-28 defeat to the Bengals completing 28/44 for 311 yards with 2 TD and a season high 4 INT. The Broncos took a 28-27 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter but could not hold on as Cincy clinched at least a wildcard and will play tomorrow night in Pittsburgh for the AFC North title. Andy Dalton completed 17/26 for 146 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT. Jeremy Hill carried 22 times for 147 yards (6.7) including an 85 yard TD Run that put the Bengals on the board. Emmanuel Sanders caught 6 passes for 70 yards including both of Dalton's TD passes. Denver shouldn't have much trouble as a likely second seed, and will wrap up the 2014 regular season hosting the Oakland Raiders (3-12) who are coming off their 2nd win in 3 games. Unable to make the playoffs, Oakland prevented Buffalo from joining the postseason fray by edging the BIlls 26-24 last week. The Bills have now missed the playoffs 15 straight years. Derek Carr completed 17/34 for 214 yards and 2 TD. Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden combined for 140 yards on the ground, and the Raiders defense forced 4 Buffalo turnovers and allowed just 13 net rushing yards. Kyle Orton completed 32/49 for 329 yards with 3 TD and 2 INT.
Manning (374/560 4454 39 TD 15 INT) has not given retirement much thought and despite the recent troubles plans to keep on playing through at least next season. With Denver set for at least a first round bye, CJ Anderson (166-762 4.6 5 TD) will have to provide more positive carries to take some of the stress off Manning and an otherwise thin offensive line. If given the time, nobody has a more quicker and efficient release than Manning, who has a triple threat in the receiving core led by Demaryius Thomas (103-1504 11 TD) who caught 7 passes for 115 yards in week 16. Thomas joined an exclusive club. He joined Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only receivers in NFL history with three straight seasons of at least 1,400 yards and 10 touchdown catches. Sanders (95-1331 9 TD) has set career highs in 2014 but might be limited on Sunday recovering from a hip injury. Julius Thomas (43-489 12 TD) will probably also be limited due to an ankle injury, however the bye week could help the latter back up to speed in practice and for Denver's opening postseason game with a fully healthy receiving core.
Carr (330/563 3112 20 TD 11 INT) who has been one of the few bright spots for Oakland has started every game thus far in his rookie campaign. He should be good to go on Sunday despite not practicing much earlier in the week due to an illness. James Jones (71-649 6 TD) has also put up some impressive numbers despite being hampered by injuries this season. Andre Holmes (45-683 4 TD) has been playing with a shoulder injury and hopes to get one final chance to impress. Darren McFadden (151-521 3.5 2 TD) carried 9 times for 54 yards (6.0) against Buffalo, but otherwise it has been an inconsistent campaign for the 7 year vet. The future for this ground game is in Murray (72-387 5.4 2 TD), who should be able to help Carr get more production and protection in the offense gearing towards next season. Murray and McFadden have rushed for all 4 Raider TD's this season, as Oakland is dead last averaging just 78 yards on the ground per contest.
The Raiders defense may catch a struggling Peyton Manning, though the future Hall Of Famer could just as easily have a field day against a simply bad defense as a tune up for the postseason. The Raiders have already proven capable of picking off Manning. Defensive end Justin Tuck and cornerback D.J. Hayden each have an interception in the Week 10 showdown against the Broncos. Denver did not have a solid showing against the run where they are normally up to the task almost every week. After Hill's 85 yard scoring run Denver limited Cincinnati to just 3 yards per carry the rest of the way. The Broncos rank 3rd in the league in total defense including giving up just 81 yards on the ground, good for second overall.
While the offense looked back to it's aggressive ways Denver needs to cut the sloppiness and have more of a fluid pattern in their offense, which averages 29 points and 400 yards per contest. Manning will almost certainly lean on Anderson who sets up the passing game nicely with gains early and often in potential scoring possessions. Undefeated at home, you'd almost expect Fox and company to stay focused even against an Oakland team who despite looking much improved as of late don't have much to play for. Carr has been better than average this season, however with a yound, erratic running game and no defense to fall back on. the Broncos should reign supreme.