NFL Preview - Denver (12-3) at Oakland (4-11)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Denver is on the verge of a new NFL single-season scoring record and clinching home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs so you might think things are coming up all Broncos.
Star pass rusher Von Miller, perhaps Denver's best defensive player, was the latest Bronco to go down to injury, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last week against Houston, a big blow to a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations.
The Broncos, who wrapped up the AFC West and a first-round bye by routing the lowly Texans, can make sure the road to Super Bowl XLVIII runs through Mile High on the AFC side of things by winning at Oakland this Sunday.
Miller was hurt on a seemingly innocuous play in the first quarter of the team's 37-13 win in Houston when his leg bent awkwardly as he was blocked by Texans tight end Ryan Griffin at the line.
An MRI on Monday revealed the torn ACL, according to Broncos coach John Fox.
"It's definitely going to be a blow," Broncos executive vice president John Elway said on his weekly podcast. "But I think that we've done a good job of handling adversity throughout the year. This is another bump in the road for us."
Part of that adversity was playing the first six games of the season without Miller, who was serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Denver won all six of those contests.
Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns in Houston last week, bringing his season total to an amazing 51 TD tosses, which passed Tom Brady's 50 in 2007 for the most scoring passes in league history.
Manning, who is expected to win his record fifth MVP award, also now has 5,211 passing yards and is just the fifth different signal caller to reach that plateau and the only one to pass for 5,000 and 50 touchdowns in the same season.
Three of Manning's touchdown passes against the Texans came in the fourth quarter -- two to Eric Decker and the record-breaker to tight end Julius Thomas in the front right corner of the end zone with 4:28 remaining.
Decker found the ball, tucked it inside his jersey and smuggled the keepsake to the sideline.
Manning smiled as he said the record will probably be "temporary."
"I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games, and there won't be an asterisk next to them," Manning said.
Then, with a smirk: "Brady will probably break it again next year. ... We'll enjoy it for as long as it lasts and hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back when somebody throws for more."
Manning had the single-season record of 49 -- set with the Colts in 2004 -- before Brady broke it with 50 in 2007.
Manning finished 32-of-51 against the Texans with no interceptions and cracked the 5,000-barrier for the first time in his career.
Decker had 10 catches for 131 yards, Demaryius Thomas caught eight passes for 123 yards and a touchdown and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 76 yards on just 11 carries. Moreno reached a career-high 1,015 yards for the season.
The Raiders, meanwhile, are enduring their 11th straight season playing .500 football or worse. Oakland hasn't had a winning campaign since finishing 11-5 in 2002 en route to losing Super Bowl XXXVII to Tampa Bay.
In the ensuing 11 campaigns the Raiders are a combined 53-122, topping out with 8-8 records in both 2010 and 2011, with seven different head coaches. The latest Oakland mentor is Dennis Allen, who is 8-23 since taking over the program in 2012 and could be on the way out after Sunday.
A season-long back-and-forth at the quarterback position in Oakland continued this week when Terrelle Pryor was asked to finish the 2013 season just as it began -- with him as the Raiders' starting quarterback.
It will be Pryor's first start since being benched in favor of rookie Matt McGloin in mid-November.
Pryor headlined eight of Oakland's first nine games, missing a Week 4 matchup with Washington after a concussion. He was then sidelined for the Raiders' Week 11 trip to Houston with a sprained knee and lost the gig after McGloin threw three touchdown passes to beat the Texans, 28-23.
McGloin has started the last six games, including a Week 16 loss at San Diego in which he threw for just 206 yards. Darren McFadden scored the only Raiders touchdown in tat one while Andre Holmes caught five passes for 71 yards.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed that we lost the game," said Allen.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This shapes up as a speed bump for Denver, which needs 18 points to surpass the 2007 Patriots (589) as the most prolific offense of all-time and 28 to become the first team to reach the 600 mark.
They will have to do it without Wes Welker again, who returned to the practice field on Christmas Day for the first time since suffering his second concussion of the season on Dec. 8. Welker, though, will more than likely be held out with an eye on getting him back for the postseason.
He, Miller and Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady (foot) are the headliners of a lengthy injury list which also includes safety Rahim Moore (leg) and defensive linemen Kevin Vickerson (hip) and Derek Wolfe (seizure).
Having Manning certainly has helped make up for those losses. The four-time MVP is playing at an incredibly high level and will be looking for his seventh straight win over the Raiders dating to his tenure in Indianapolis. As the leader of the Broncos, Manning has completed a gaudy 79.3 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception in three games against Oakland.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have allowed a league-worst 33.6 points per game in contests over the last two months.
Pryor is 3-5 as a starter and has completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,591 yards and five touchdowns with 11 interceptions. His main attribute is his legs as he ranks second among all NFL quarterbacks with 527 rushing yards.
Not everyone is happy about Pryor being back in the saddle, however. His agent, Jerome Stanley. told CSN Bay Area he believes Allen wants Pryor to play poorly in order to justify the original move to McGloin, who has dropped five in a row as a starter.
"This isn't the 'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,' this isn't made for TV drama," Allen said. "This is football and we make our football decisions based solely on that. I can't control the ignorance that might come out of somebody else's mouth.
"We had an opportunity to watch Matt McGloin for six games and now I want to get another opportunity to watch Terrelle go out there and play. I think we need something that's going to spark the football team."
The only thing standing between the Broncos and the No. 1 seed in the AFC is the oh so dysfunctional Raiders. That's as easy as it gets for Manning and Co., who should cruise past the 600-point mark.
PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Raiders 14
12/27 12:54:29 ET