OAKLAND --Broncos vs. Raiders.
Both teams tied for first place in the AFC West.
Prime time. National television.
Doesn't it just feel right?
Between Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, the Broncos have faced no team under the lights more than the Raiders. This will be their 23rd prime-time meeting since the AFL-NFL merger.
Even in the previous 13 years, when the Raiders struggled and never finished above .500, they kept seeing each other in prime time. They met on Monday Night Football in 2011 and 2013, and dueled on a Thursday night in 2012 in Oakland. Raiders-Broncos still meant something.
But now, it feels like the rivalry is back.
This will be the first time since Dec. 22, 2002 that the teams have met in the second half of the season when both had winning records. That game was for the AFC West title; this one may prove to have equal significance, depending on how the next few weeks progress.
With the Chiefs bearing down and making noise of their own, the loser Sunday night could be in third place in the league's best division. It's as big as a midseason game gets.
What are the Broncos' keys to victory?
- SUSTAIN LONG DRIVES**
This is the key to finding the offensive balance the Broncos need, as Head Coach Gary Kubiak has pointed out. That starts on first down; the Broncos must get a better push off the snap to generate the kind of ground production they had during their 27-9 romp over Houston 13 days ago.
Oakland's defense comes into Week 9 28th in the league in rushing yardage allowed per game (125.0 yards), 30th in yardage per carry allowed (4.8) and 23rd in first-down rate (one every 3.92 carries). There is an opening the Broncos could exploit; if they can, Kubiak will get the balance he wants.
2. MINIMIZE OAKLAND'S BIG PLAYS
The Raiders lead the league through eight weeks with 39 plays of 20 or more yards, an average of 4.9 per game. Last week against Tampa Bay, they had 10 such plays in nearly five quarters of work, capped by the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.
It's not a coincidence that the Raiders' worst offensive games came when they had their lowest total of explosive plays. Baltimore and Kansas City limited the Raiders to just two 20-plus plays in their games; those mark the only two times this season that the Raiders failed to amass 300 yards from scrimmage.
Oakland still managed to beat the Ravens because the Raiders scored twice on short fields following a fumble recovery and a 47-yard punt return that set the Raiders up at the Baltimore 6- and 29-yard line, respectively. But without those kinds of breaks against the Chiefs and Falcons -- when Oakland had just three gains of 20 or more yards -- Oakland fell.
3. QUICK START TO TRY AND NEUTRALIZE THE CROWD
This is the Raiders' first home regular-season appearance on Sunday Night Football since NBC got the contract for the series in 2006, which made SNF the highest-profile prime-time package. It's also the Raiders' first appearance, home or away, on SNF since the Broncos beat them 13-3 in Denver 10 years ago.
Oakland's crowd is usually raucous, even at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. Four and a half hours later, the Broncos should expect a hornet's nest. But nothing silences that like a quick start and dominant defense.
Take a look at the five most-important matchups of the Broncos' final game of the season. (Photos by AP)