Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 2:05 p.m. MT (CBS)
Spread: Broncos by 7
Forecast: Scattered clouds; projected kickoff temperature: 72-75
2012 records: Broncos (1-2); Raiders (1-2)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 6, 2011: Broncos 38, Raiders 24; Sept. 12, 2011: Raiders 23, Broncos 20. Series record: Raiders hold a 59-42-2 edge.
What matters: On paper, this game appeared to be a breather in a brutal five-week stretch that included duels with Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston and New England. But to overlook the Raiders is folly; they've won four straight in Denver -- and four straight regardless of venue when RB Darren McFadden has played. In those games, McFadden has averaged 127 yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry, and Denver's efforts to slow him down could be hindered by the one-game suspension of MLB Joe Mays for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Houston QB Matt Schaub. Mays' suspension, combined with the ongoing suspension of D.J. Williams and the potential absence of backup Nate Irving due to a concussion makes the Broncos' linebacking depth as thin as the mile-high air.
Who matters: QB Peyton Manning spent the last two weeks answering questions about the quality of his throws and the strength of his arm, but it's possible that his ups and downs were in part tied to playing two of the league's best teams while still finding proper chemistry with his pass catchers and offensive line. Dropped passes didn't help Manning's cause one iota last week; WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and RB Lance Ball all dropped two each.
Decker and Thomas are both on pace for 1,000-yard seasons after three games, and Decker took advantage of the extra attention Houston devoted to Thomas last week by finishing with a career-high 136 yards. Oakland's CB corps is so depleted that safety Michael Huff now starts there; the inexperience and shuffling all around the secondary means that the Raiders might not be able to disguise their coverages to confuse Manning and Denver WRs as previous opponents did, so they might get open for some long gains.
Safety Rahim Moore had nine tackles last week and enjoyed perhaps his best all-around game as a pro, even though he was caught biting on a Schaub play-action fake that helped Andre Johnson break open for a 60-yard touchdown catch. Moore should have increased responsibilities creeping into the box to try to contain McFadden; the key for him is to avoid the 15-yard penalties of aggression; he was called for one in each of the four games in which he took defensive snaps before last week.
Key matchups: Fill-in RG Manny Ramirez was targeted by Houston, who used LDE J.J. Watt to attack Ramirez, logging 2.5 sacks at his expense and forcing two holding penalties. Oakland DTs Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly and LDE Lamarr Houston lack Watt's explosion and array of moves, but the Raiders can be expected to attack Ramirez to try to collapse the pocket, as the Texans did successfully last week … SLB Von Miller leads the Broncos in sacks (three) and has improved as a run defender but still struggles in coverage against elite tight ends, as shown by touchdowns he allowed to San Francisco's Vernon Davis in the preseason and Houston's Owen Daniels last week. Oakland TE Brandon Myers isn't yet in their class, but he is prolific enough to cause problems, having started the season on pace for 80 receptions and 1,099 yards.
Injuries of note: RG Chris Kuper is doubtful; he returned to practice this week after missing six weeks with a fractured left forearm, but the Broncos want to work him back into game shape before turning him loose … S Quinton Carter is out with a knee injury; he had that knee scoped during training camp … LB Nate Irving is questionable with a concussion suffered last Sunday; he returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days … WR Matt Willis is questionable with a left hamstring strain … RB Willis McGahee is probable and practiced fully this week after suffering a rib cartilage injury last Sunday.
Inside stuff: Keith Brooking started at weakside LB the last two weeks but is expected to move to the middle to replace the suspended Mays, with Wesley Woodyard playing every down on the weak side. Woodyard was replaced by Brooking in base packages the last two weeks but remained in the Broncos' nickel defense, and he intercepted a pass last week. If something happens to any of Denver's starting linebackers, their backups are a pair of rookies who have yet to play a down on defense (Danny Trevathan and Steven Johnson), although they may get Irving back from a concussion. McFadden's presence means the Broncos may cheat their safeties forward to assist in stopping the run, but the Broncos will have to be careful, since Oakland is more inclined to use McFadden as a receiver out of the backfield than ever before; he's averaged more than twice as many catches per game this year (5.8) than his previous four (2.6).
Connections: Raiders coach Dennis Allen was Denver's defensive coordinator last year … Broncos coach John Fox was the Raiders' defensive coordinator in 1994-95 … Both teams have members of the Ihenacho family on their practice squad; the Raiders have LB Carl Ihenacho ; the Broncos have his younger brother, S Duke Ihenacho . They played together at San Jose State … Broncos CB Tracy Porter played for Allen when he was a secondary coach in New Orleans (2008-10) … Broncos TE Joel Dreessen and Raiders G Mike Brisiel were teammates in Houston from 2007-11 … Raiders S Mike Giordano and Porter were Saints teammates in 2010 … Broncos C/G C.J. Davis was on the Panthers with Raiders RB Mike Goodson in 2009-10 … Both teams have special teams assistants named Keith Burns.
Stat you should know: The Raiders have won four in a row in Denver, giving them their longest winning streak in the Mile High City since 1974-77 and matching their total of wins in Denver from 1991-2007.
Record watch: The next time Manning leads a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, he will tie Dan Marino for first-all time with 47.
Looking ahead: October doesn't appear quite as daunting as September, in which the Broncos became the only team to play two of the teams that started 3-0, but a two-game road swing to New England and San Diego immediately after the Raiders game will be challenging, although it will bulk up the frequent-flyer miles.
Prediction: Broncos 37, Raiders 20.