Denver, CO - Two weeks ago, the Denver Broncos had lost three straight games and several key players to injuries - and they also looked to be losing their grip on the AFC West lead.
Instead, their road to the division title is clearer than ever, and they are in great position to earn a third straight victory on Sunday as they face the offensively inept Oakland Raiders at Invesco Field.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made the Broncos –9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 71% of bets for this game have been placed on the Broncos –9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
After riding Jay Cutler's arm to a 4-1 start, the Broncos (6-4) faltered defensively during a three-game skid from Oct. 12-Nov. 2. With injuries to star cornerback Champ Bailey and all three of their starting linebackers, including leading tackler D.J. Williams, it seemed unlikely things would get any better.
But that's just what has happened in road wins over Cleveland and Atlanta the last two weeks. Cutler threw for 447 yards in the 34-30 win over the Browns on Nov. 6, but Sunday's 24-20 win at Atlanta may have been even more impressive.
The Falcons hadn't lost at home this season, but the Broncos erased a late deficit with an 83-yard drive in the fourth quarter, capped by Daniel Graham's nine-yard touchdown reception. With a bevy of Denver running backs also out, including Michael Pittman and Selvin Young, rookie Peyton Hillis added a pair of rushing TDs.
"We made some big strides," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Normally, you go the other direction when you have your starters out. ... It feels pretty good to have guys step up that have really not played in the National Football League."
Besides Hillis, a seventh-round pick and lesser-known teammate of Raiders rookie Darren McFadden at Arkansas, the Broncos have stayed afloat with the help of a number of first-year players.
Rookie Spencer Larsen started at both linebacker and fullback against Atlanta, becoming the first two-way starter in franchise history. Receiver Eddie Royal continues to lead all rookies with 659 receiving yards, while rookie left tackle Ryan Clady has helped anchor Cutler's offensive line.
"We've always known that we had a real solid rookie class that consisted of a lot of mature kids that came in and had tremendous confidence in themselves," Larsen said. "We had opportunities. This team has been plagued with injuries all year. With the injuries, we rookies have been able to step up and help out."
With the benefit of playing in one of the league's weakest divisions, the Broncos hold a two-game lead on San Diego, and two of their next three games are at home against the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs - clubs that are a combined 3-17.
The Broncos have dominated their rivalry with the Raiders in recent years, winning six of seven and going 21-6 since 1995, including 11-2 at home.
Denver has already blown out Oakland this year, opening the season with a 41-14 road victory in a Monday night game on Sept. 8. Even without top target Brandon Marshall, who was suspended for that game, Cutler threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
"We got behind early and didn't seem to ever get in the game, that's about what I remember from that," interim Oakland coach Tom Cable said. "... But that is so long ago. To me, it is the here and the now."
The Raiders (2-8) haven't shown many signs of improvement recently, losing four straight. Even though they held a lead in the final minute of a 17-15 defeat at Miami last Sunday, they've gone three full games and 180 plays without an offensive touchdown - easily the league's longest active streak.
Johnnie Lee Higgins gave Oakland the lead with a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders offense managed just 199 total yards. With second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell either injured or struggling, the unit has averaged 192.3 yards and 7.8 points in the last four games.
The Raiders rank last in the league in a plethora of offensive categories, including total points, passing yards and third-down conversion percentage.
"You can't have an offense that doesn't score points," said Justin Fargas, who is Oakland's top rusher but has no touchdowns this season. "We have to pick up our side of it."
Still, Cable was encouraged by his team's effort against the Dolphins. It was the Raiders' first single-digit loss since their last victory, a 16-13 win over the New York Jets on Oct. 19, and they held their opponent to 17 points for the second straight week.
"This is good for us," Cable said. "It hurts because we lost, but we're getting closer. We've just got to keep pounding away, and we'll get a break one of these days."
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
DENVER is 17-16 against the spread versus OAKLAND since 1992
DENVER is 22-12 straight up against OAKLAND since 1992
18 of 34 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
OAKLAND is 4-1 against the spread versus DENVER over the last 3 seasons
DENVER is 4-1 straight up against OAKLAND over the last 3 seasons
3 of 5 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at DENVER since 1992
DENVER is 8-8 against the spread versus OAKLAND since 1992
DENVER is 12-4 straight up against OAKLAND since 1992
8 of 16 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at DENVER over the last 3 seasons.
OAKLAND is 2-0 against the spread versus DENVER over the last 3 seasons
DENVER is 2-0 straight up against OAKLAND over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[RB] Oren O'Neal IR - Knee - 08/24/08
[LB] Jon Alston missed last game, "?". - Foot - 11/02/08
[T] Seth Wand IR - Knee - 09/26/08
[LB] Ricky Brown missed last game, "?" - Groin - 11/02/08
[TE] Ben Troupe IR - Foot - 10/22/08
[RB] Darren McFadden missed last game, "?" - Toe - 11/02/08
[OL] Paul McQuistan IR - Knee - 09/10/08
[FB] Justin Griffith IR - Knee - 10/27/08
[CB] DeAngelo Hall has been released. - None - 11/05/08
[DE] Derrick Burgess missed last game, "?". - Tricep - 11/02/08
[LB] Robert Thomas IR - Hamstring - 11/05/08
[SS] Tyvon Branch IR - Shoulder - 11/07/08
[RB] Anthony Alridge IR - Hamstring - 08/29/08
[WR] Clifford Russell IR - Neck - 10/01/08
[QB] Patrick Ramsey IR - Elbow - 10/22/08
[RB] Michael Pittman IR - Neck - 11/03/08
[LB] Niko Koutouvides is %27?%27 - Illness - 11/04/08
[C] Tom Nalen IR - Knee - 09/21/08
[LB] Nate Webster left last game %27?%27 - Knee - 11/06/08
[LB] Boss Bailey IR - Knee - 10/22/08
[LB] D.J. Williams injured last game, expected to miss 2 - 4 weeks - Knee - 11/03/08
[CB] Champ Bailey is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. - Groin - 10/22/08
[DB] Marlon McCree expected to miss 3-4 weeks - Leg - 11/04/08
[RB] Selvin Young left last game %27?%27 - Groin - 11/06/08
[RB] Andre Hall IR - Hand - 11/03/08
[RB] Ryan Torain expected to miss the rest of the season - Knee - 11/07/08
[DT] Carlton Powell expected to miss at least six weeks. - Knee - 08/27/08
Did you like this article? Subscribe to our NFL news feed for the fastest updates delivered right to you - Click here to Subscribe
Posted: 11/19/08 7:55 PM ET