ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (9-3) look to improve to 5-0 in the division and win their eighth straight game when they wrap up their season series with the Oakland Raiders (3-9) on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. Kickoff at O.Co Coliseum is scheduled for 5:29 p.m. PST. Below is a preview of the game that includes important matchups on each side of the ball and a key to victory for Denver.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Peyton Manning has already made his presence known in the Broncos-Raiders rivalry, lighting up the Oakland secondary in Week 4. His 338-yard performance is a season-high for Manning, and it included three touchdown passes and a 78.9 completion percentage.
As Manning plays in the "Black Hole" for the first time as a Bronco, the Raiders defense will look to avoid a repeat from the teams' first matchup in 2012.
"He sees that defense on the field and he can put them in the perfect play for whatever defense you're in," Raiders defensive back Michael Huff said. "He's like the offensive coordinator on the field and any time he knows the defense you're in, nine times out of 10, he's going to take advantage of it. The main thing is to disguise looks and kind of keep him off guard a little bit and hopefully we'll get after him."
Huff added that a short week makes it even more difficult preparing for a quarterback like Manning, but said that their tape of the Week 4 game will help.
As the Raiders will look to contain the Denver passing game, the Broncos offensive personnel are focused on improving the run game on Thursday night. The team hasn't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 8. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, lead-rusher Knowshon Moreno averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
"We have to do a little better job up front blocking," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "We had too many minus runs in the game."
Manning said the coaching staff stressed the importance of establishing a better running game during Tuesday's practice. It will be particularly important with a chance of rain in Oakland on Thursday night.
"That is something that we feel like we have to be able to do and do better," Manning said. "Especially as potential weather approaches, that run game is something you want to have clicking on all cylinders. I know the offensive line hears that challenge, as do the backs and everybody. Everybody is involved."
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
The Broncos will be without linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who has been ruled out with an ankle injury. With 97 tackles on the season, Woodyard has 34 more tackles than any other player on the Broncos.
Linebacker Von Miller said some adjustments might have to be made, but D.J. Williams is ready and able to step in and pick up the added reps. Williams has been back for three games, getting an average of 18 defensive snaps per contest.
"It'll definitely affect the defense," Miller said of Woodyard's potential absence. "He has been playing well for us all season. If Wood can't go, D.J. will step in at the position. It's the same thing Wood did for D.J. at the beginning of the year. I think D.J. will be ready to go and will definitely take advantage of the opportunity."
The Raiders offense has had success in creating big plays. Oakland is tied for eighth in the league with 27 passing plays of more than 25 yards.
Oftentimes, their skill players make space for themselves by breaking tackles. They average six yards after the catch this year, tied for the fifth-best mark in the NFL.
"They generate a lot of explosive plays," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They've got a lot of talented skilled people with explosive speed, wide receivers and backs that can go the distance, and even though they've had a few guys banged up, they've had some guys step up, step in and play real well for them in their place."
One of the players that have stepped for Oakland is fullback Marcel Reece. Fellow back Darren McFadden hasn't played since Week 9, and Reece has thrived in his absence.
Where Reece has been particularly effective is in the passing game. In the last three weeks, he leads all running backs in the NFL with 139 receiving yards on 13 catches and has been targeted 19 times, also a league-high for running backs.
"He can do it all," safety Rahim Moore said.
On Thursday night, Reece could be joined by McFadden, who is listed as probable to play after missing the last four weeks with an ankle injury.
KEY TO THE GAME: Repeat Performance
The Broncos played perhaps their most complete game of the year in Week 4's 37-6 win against the Raiders. On Thursday night, they'll look to re-use the recipe from that victory to improve complete the season sweep of Oakland and improve to 5-0 in the division.
"We started figuring out what we were good at," cornerback said. "We made some plays in that game and one thing I do remember, we got after the quarterback pretty good and I know they know that and they're going to find ways to protect (quarterback) Carson Palmer a lot better this time around."
National Television: The game will be televised on NFL Network, with Brad Nessler (play-by-play) and Mike Mayock (color commentary) calling the game and Alex Flanagan reporting from the sidelines.
Local Television: The game will also be shown on KCNC Channel 4 for those without NFL Network.
Local Radio: KOA (850 AM) will feature Dave Logan (play-by-play) and Ed McCaffrey (color commentary) with Alan Roach reporting from the sidelines.
Local Spanish Radio: KMXA (1090 AM) / KJMN (92.1 FM): Luis Canela (play-by-play) and Rafael Medina will call the game.
National Radio: Kevin Kugler (play-by-play) and Trent Green (color commentary) will call the game with Laura Okmin reporting from the sidelines.