One team has won eight straight games and already has locked up the AFC West championship and is priming for the playoffs.
The other team has lost five straight and already is assured of missing the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.
Not surprisingly, NFL oddsmakers have made the 9-3 Denver Broncos a 10½-point favorite over the 3-9 Raiders in Thursday night’s game at O.co Coliseum, which will not be blacked out on TV in the Bay Area.
Just keeping the game close might be all that Oakland can hope for. In their first meeting this season, Denver won 37-6 as Peyton Manning completed 30-of-38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and the Broncos rolled to 503 total yards while limiting Oakland to just 237.
With just four games to go this season, the Raiders are still searching for a way to plug holes in their defense against both the run and the pass. Oakland ranks last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 31.3 points per game, and is 28th against the run and 25th against the pass.
In their past five games, all losses, the Raiders have been outscored 189-96.
“Week in and week out, it’s like it’s the same,” defensive back Michael Huff told reporters this week. “Things just aren’t going well on defense. Right now, I guess we’re just a bad defense. We can’t really hide it.”
That’s a bad situation with the Broncos coming to town.
Denver, in the midst of its longest winning streak since starting 13-0 in 1998, has scored 30 or more points in six of its last seven games.
Manning, in his first season with the Broncos after sitting out last season to recover from neck surgery, is second in the NFL in passer rating (104.6), eighth in passing yards (3,502) and has thrown 29 TD passes vs. just nine interceptions.
It’s not a one-dimensional offense, either, with the Broncos also averaging 103 yards rushing per game. Willis McGahee, with 731 yards on the ground, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
For the Raiders, it’s expected that top running back Darren McFadden will return from an ankle sprain that has sidelined him several games. Also, safeties Matt Giordano and Mike Mitchell have been cleared to play Thursday night after suffering concussions in the loss to Cleveland Sunday.
Also back will be head coach Dennis Allen, who will return from Texas Wednesday after the death of his father. Allen left for Texas after Sunday’s game to be with his father, who had been reported to be in very ill health.
Though the Broncos have a dominant offense, their defense, too, has been very good this season. In particular, Denver has a strong pass rush, which could pose problems for Raiders QB Carson Palmer.
In 12 games, Denver has 38 sacks, 23 of them by linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
If the Raiders get behind early – and are forced to pass on every down to get back into the game – Oakland will have its hands full keeping Miller and Dumervil off Palmer.
“They do well in their scheme,” Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group this week. “So pass blocking those guys is going to be key.”