Den­ver, Oak­land go­ing in op­po­site di­rec­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - TONIGHT’S GAME time: Line: About the Broncos (9- ): About the raiders ( -9): Pre­dic­tion:

OAK­LAND, CALIF. — Just a year ago, Den­ver and Oak­land went to the end of the sea­son in the race for the AFC West ti­tle, with the Broncos edg­ing the Raiders for first place on the fi­nal day by win­ning a three-team tiebreaker with San Diego.

Now the teams couldn’t be fur­ther apart.

The Broncos (9-3) are rid­ing a seven-game win­ning streak into tonight’s game in Oak­land hav­ing al­ready wrapped up the di­vi­sion ti­tle. They are spend­ing the last month wor­ried about play­off po­si­tion­ing and stay­ing healthy for the post­sea­son.

The Raiders (3-9) have lost five straight and have been elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention for a 10th straight sea­son as the fran­chise has re­gressed in the first year of the new regime led by gen­eral man­ager Reg­gie McKen­zie and coach Dennis Allen.

“It’s def­i­nitely dis­ap­point­ing. Coming into the sea­son, we had a new GM, had a new coach­ing staff and it felt like the sky was the limit, but for some rea­son we haven’t been on the same page the whole sea­son,” de­fen­sive back Michael Huff said. “The de­fense has had their strug­gles, the of­fense has their strug­gles at times, spe­cial teams had their strug­gles at time. It’s like we haven’t just put that com­plete game to­gether yet. We’re just try­ing to fig­ure it out and find that per­fect game.”

7:20 p.m., NFL Net­work.

Broncos by 10 1/2.

QB Pey­ton Man­ning has 29 TD passes against nine in­ter­cep­tions. ... The Broncos have won seven straight, their long­est win­ning streak in 14 years, and al­ready clinched sec­ond straight AFC West ti­tle.

Have been elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention for 10th con­sec­u­tive sea­son. ... Try­ing to avoid first four-game home los­ing streak since 2008.

Broncos

30-17.

The Broncos fig­ured it out quickly af­ter go­ing 8-8 last year in their first sea­son un­der front of­fice boss John El­way and coach John Fox. The big­gest change came when they ac­quired quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning to re­place Tim Te­bow.

But nearly 20 other play­ers ac­quired since El­way took over the foot­ball op­er­a­tions have started games this sea­son, in­clud­ing stand­out de­fen­sive star Von Miller, who has 26½ sacks in less than two sea­sons.

“It’s been a lot of hard work by a lot of peo­ple whether it’s per­son­nel de­part­ment, the coach­ing staff, the play­ers in the locker room,” Fox said. The Man­ning ac­qui­si­tion ac­cel­er­ated it. He has come back from a neck in­jury that side­lined him all last sea­son to set a Den­ver record with 29 touch­down passes.

The ad­di­tion of a dan­ger­ous pass­ing game to com­ple­ment a strong de­fense led by pass rush­ers Miller and Elvis Dumervil and a solid run­ning game have made the Broncos le­git­i­mate con­tenders in the AFC.

They are tied with New Eng­land and Baltimore for sec­ond place in the con­fer­ence and a firstround play­off bye.

“I think our team re­al­izes what a unique op­por­tu­nity we have and we are try­ing to take ad­van­tage of it,” Man­ning said.

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