ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **The back half of the 2016 schedule is loaded with land mines for the 6-2 Broncos.
They're well-equipped to handle the rigors, of course, since they're one of just seven teams with two or fewer losses so far this season. But five of their next eight games will be played against teams in that club, starting with Sunday's tussle with the Oakland Raiders.
One thing that will help the Broncos is the recent emergence of new leaders, like quarterback Trevor Siemian, who was selected as the second offensive captain by a players' vote Wednesday, joining full-season captain Demaryius Thomas.
Outside linebacker Dekoda Watson (special teams) and safety T.J. Ward (defense) were also added to the captains' roster, but unlike them, only Siemian is in his first year seeing any measurable playing time.
- HOW SIEMIAN EARNED THE CAPTAIN'S PATCH**
It's not just about doing your job. It's about showing composure and keeping the team steady while sailing through turbulent waters.
In seven starts, Siemian showed his teammates that he has the unflappable nature of a 12-year veteran who has seen it all, even though he's still in the midst of the first-time stage of his career.
"The look in his eyes -- he's not rattled by anything," RB Kapri Bibbs said. "He's such a calm guy. You always know you're going to get the best out of him, regardless of if his shoulder's hurt, his leg's hurt, he's going to go out there and give it his all. I guess it's a Northwestern, Big Ten mentality."
And he wouldn't have earned the captain's spot without being a leader for the entire locker room -- not just the offensive side of it.
"When Trev is hot, and that offense is clicking, we're booming. Everything is working," outside linebacker Shane Ray said. "We're feeding off the offense; they're feeding off of us.
"When Trev is on, it's just magical out there, because you see how we play as a team."
It's Raiders Week, and the Broncos are in full swing preparing for Oakland. (photos by Eric Bakke)
- SIEMIAN: "PROBABLY DESERVED" THE FOURTH-QUARTER INT**
Luck, good and bad, is part of the game. For Siemian, luck helped him avoid throwing an interception in the first half against San Diego, when four passes skipped off the hands of Chargers defenders. Luck turned against him in the second, when a pass for Jordan Norwood bounced off the receiver's hands and into the grasp of Casey Hayward, whose interception narrowed the Broncos' lead to 24-19.
That ended Siemian's streak of consecutive attempts without an interception at 167 -- and given the near-interceptions Sunday and in previous games at Cincinnati and San Diego, the streak was probably on borrowed time, anyway
"I told myself as I was walking off the field, 'You know, I deserved that one, the way I threw the ball in the first half,'" Siemian said.
"It's just [that] I wasn't seeing things right," Siemian said. "I made a couple of mistakes -- a couple of plays I'd like to do over. Just a little too inconsistent from where I want to be."
- WARD ON THE RAIDERS: "I JUST DON'T LIKE THEM"**
Ward is East Bay through-and-through. He was born in Antioch, Calif., and went to high school in nearby Concord, playing at De La Salle High School, one of the most celebrated programs in the nation. He has a tattoo for the Golden State Warriors, who play their home games next door to the Raiders' home, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
But that doesn't mean Ward grew up a Raiders fan.
"I never liked the Raiders. I grew up a Niners fan," he said. "In the Bay, you're either a Niner or a Raider. You've got friends on both side of the bay."
Ward's choice as a young fan isn't unusual. The famed 2014 Facebook map showing which NFL team had the most likes in each county showed the 49ers winning every county in the Bay Area, including Alameda and Contra Costa counties in their backyard.
"I just don't like them," he said. "I just don't like the Raiders. I couldn't even tell you -- it's probably just bred in me. Probably because I had a lot of friends who were Raider fans, and we just used to argue all the time. The two teams I really hated growing up were the Cowboys and Raiders."
- TO HAVE AND TO HOLD**
No team has been called for offensive holding more often than the Raiders, who have been whistled 23 times -- 18 of which were accepted. But the Broncos are just three teams behind them, with 17 holding calls -- 15 of which were accepted.
How can that be fixed?
"I don't know," Siemian said. "I still don't know what a holding call is. There could be holding on every play; you hear a lot of people say that."
One of them is a player who's been held more than a few times this season -- outside linebacker Shane Ray.
"Like, every play," Ray said. "I mean, it's serious. They're really lenient on calling holding in the NFL -- especially when you get tussled up with a guy. There's plays where I tried to throw my guy off, and I'd have been tackled, and there's no flag. That's what you should expect.
"When I first got to the league, DeMarcus [Ware] was like, 'Look, young buck, they don't call this. Holding is not real. Unless you're laying out and falling, it's not real. So get ready.'"
And plenty of times when holding is called, the hold is all that separates the quarterback from a jarring hit.
"Truthfully, I'd probably rather them hold than me get hit pretty good back there," Siemian said.
The last time the Broncos played the Raiders in Oakland, the defense came up with another huge scoring play to secure a five-game win streak.
- DEREK CARR IS PLAYING "EXCEPTIONALLY WELL"**
So says Head Coach Gary Kubiak, who sees the growth the Raiders' quarterback has demonstrated this year in becoming one of the league's most precise quarterbacks.
Carr has thrown more often than any other quarterback; his 323 attempts through eight games lead the NFL. But he's thrown just three interceptions, a rate of one interception every 108 passes that ranks sixth among all quarterbacks with more than 200 attempts.
"Really a great player right now, doing a great job," Kubiak said of Carr.
Kubiak gives part of the credit to Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, a former Broncos backup quarterback who played under Kubiak during his first two seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator (1995-96).
"Billy does a great job," Kubiak. "But I think the thing with Derek: He's throwing it more than anybody in football and he's turned it over less than [almost] anybody in football. So that tells you the growth of him. That's what this league's all about: Can you be aggressive, go out there and throw it around, but also can you keep us in games? That's what he's been doing."