OAKLAND – The Raiders are all the rage these days. Significant preseason hype has been realized during a 6-2 start built on high drama and comeback road wins, making the Silver and Black a trending national topic to start the season’s second half.
Quarterback Derek Carr is considered an early MVP candidate, edge rusher Khalil Mack has asserted himself in recent weeks and head coach Jack Del Rio has this team walking into every game with confidence.
There’s plenty to discuss heading into the biggest game of the year and the biggest game in Oakland in a dozen years.
“Sunday Night Football” scheduled a game in Oakland for the first time since 2005, and they booked a good one. The Raiders and Broncos are both 6-2, and they’ll battle for AFC West dominance in primetime.
“I think what we recognize as an organization is as you become relevant, as you play good football, you’re going to have more of these opportunities,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “This is the natural progression in building a good football team. We should expect to be in these games. We’re going to expect to win these games. Then we’re going to move forward and have more of these kinds of games.”
The Raiders made waves with a 5-0 road record and three comeback wins, and enter this game eager to put their talents on display.
“We’re going to show the world what we’ve got,” left tackle Donald Penn said after last week’s overtime victory at Tampa Bay. “It’s a big game. It might be for first place. This win feels good, but I’m excited about playing the Broncos. This one is going to be big.”
Several new Raiders have played in big games before. Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith were Seahawks. Reggie Nelson was imported from the Bengals. Sean Smith was a Kansas City Chief. Those playoff contenders regularly played in big games.
“I’m used to it,” Irvin said. “It’s always good to be talked about. It’s been a long time since the Raiders have been highlighted like this on the season. We’re going to try and keep it as normal as possible.”
That will be key for a large young foundation drafted and developed by the Raiders which hasn’t played in a game of this magnitude. How they handle the spotlight’s glare will have an impact on Sunday night’s outcome.
The Broncos are used to this. The defending Super Bowl champs are regular features in nationally televised games as an AFC powerhouse in recent years, but they also understand this game’s importance at this stage of the season.
“The circumstances we’re coming into—both at the top of the division—we know that (it’s going to) definitely have, later on, playoff meaning,” Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s a big game. It’s a playoff game, divisional game, Sunday night. It’s not going to get more intense than that.”
Raiders coaches have done a good job keeping their players focused on rest, recovery and game-planning for a solid Broncos team. They’ve worked to shut out the hype and treat this like any other game.
“We’re going to out and do what we do,” Mack said. “There’s no pressure. We’re just focused on playing fundamentally sound game.”