At 1-1, the Raiders have so far played better than predicted.
Oakland almost defeated the Colts in Indianapolis in the season opener, then topped the Jacksonville Jaguars at O.co Coliseum in Week 2.
But if the Raiders really want to see if they’ve made progress – evolving with a new quarterback, patched-together offensive line and overhauled defense – they now get their biggest test of the young season against the Denver Broncos.
And how they do will be for all the football world to see, with the game at Sports Authority Field in Denver on “Monday Night Football.”
“This is the ultimate,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver told Bay Area reporters Thursday. “Going against the best. ‘Monday Night Football.’ Nobody thinks you can win. I can’t wait.”
Oddsmakers initially made the 2-0 Broncos 14½-point favorites in what will be the 17th matchup of the teams in Monday night games, but the spread is now 15½.
“This will be the best team that we’ve faced and they’re very talented, so we’re going to have to do a good job of changing things up and mixing some things up, mixing some looks and … play a good, team game,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, who lost both games against Denver last year.
The Raiders will have to stop the NFL’s most potent offense (90 points in two games), led by quarterback Peyton Manning, who already has thrown for nine touchdowns with no interceptions. Running back Knowshon Moreno has had 121 yards rushing in two games, with two TDs.
On defense, the Broncos are ranked just 21st overall in the league, but are No. 1 in the NFL against the run, allowing just 81 yards per game.
So, when the Raiders are on offense, it will be strength vs. strength. Oakland leads the NFL with 198.5 yards per game on the ground, with running back Darren McFadden leading the AFC with 177 yards, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor is No. 3 in the AFC with 162 yards.
Traditionally, McFadden has run well against the Broncos. He has 723 yards (and a 5.8-yard per carry average) vs. Denver, the most yardage against any opponent.
When the Broncos have the ball, the Raiders may try to put as much pressure on Manning as possible with a defensive scheme that leads the NFL in sacks with nine. Half of those sacks have been made by defensive backs, as Tarver has sent a flood of blitzes at opposing quarterbacks so far.
Broncos head coach John Fox says he is taking this matchup against an AFC West opponent very seriously.
“I know they are leading the league in rushing,” he said of the Raiders, to the Denver Post. “I know they are leading the league in sacks. I know they are a very capable division opponent. Those (division) games are doubly special.”