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Horse Tracks: 'They don't like us, we don't like them' Raiders edition

Christmas Day has come and gone so all that love and good will needs to be put on hold (at least on the football field) as a much-improved Oakland Raiders team comes to town for the final game of the regular season and the second contest between these two hated rivals.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Good Morning, Broncos Country!

Hopefully you all enjoyed a wonderful holiday and got to play with all your toys/jerseys from Santa yesterday.

And if you have to go back to work today, at least you can feel good knowing that your Broncos are hard at work today too.

Just as they were yesterday, despite the Christmas holiday.

After all, these Broncos have a lot of preparation to do before inviting a much-improved, but always a much-despised, Oakland Raiders team to Mile High on Sunday.

"In the last five games, they are 3-2 and beat some tough teams," said running back C.J. Anderson of the Raiders. "They beat Kansas City, beat Buffalo. They are picking their game up, and it's the last game of the season. What's better than spoiling your division rival? We know we've got a big game ahead of us."

Let's hope so.

Enough has been said about the awful performance in Cincinnati, but the Broncos have put that game in the past and are focusing on beating a division rival that's no slouch - even at 3-12..

"You kind of play the 24-hour rule," Peyton Manning said on Wednesday. "I think you're supposed to have a day to think about the game, think about what happened, try to correct it. It's not supposed to be the most enjoyable process and then you've got to move on. That is where we are today, moving on to the Oakland Raiders. The fortunate thing is we have a chance to play this week."

And play they better.

As you recall, the Broncos had a pretty slow start in their first meeting with the AFC West foes, trailing a good part of the first half until a Bradley Roby interception and a 51-yard touchdown play by Anderson put the Broncos in steamroller mode. That game was the breakout performance for Anderson, who has been running over linebackers ever since.

But this weekend will be a whole new game.

Raiders' rookie quarterback Derek Carr has 15 NFL games under his belt and he's showing improvement - as well as great production. The Fresno State alum is on pace to throw the second-most passes by an NFL rookie. With 371 completions, he needs just 25 to top Sam Bradford's rookie completion record. And although Carr has thrown half as many touchdowns as Peyton Manning has this season, he is breathing some life into the Oakland team.

"He's gotten a lot more comfortable," cornerback Chris Harris, Jr., said of the young QB. "They are running the ball a lot better than they were earlier in the season to relieve some pressure on him; he's not making a lot of mistakes. You expect that as a rookie. You expect him to get better as the year goes on and I'm sure he'll be ready for us this week."

There are a few other players to be concerned about as well. Rookie defensive end Khalil Mack, among the few players on defense to earn a green grade from Pro Football Focus, has recorded a total of three sacks in two of the last three games. On the offense, running back Latavius Murray is also a threat, having put up 86 rushing yards last week against Buffalo and 112 in Week 12 against Kansas City.

"This is the NFL. They're all challenges," said head coach John Fox, who added that you don't ever take division opponents lightly. "[Oakland is] a division team, one that gave us fits in the first half last time. So we just have to be on point wherever our fits are in the run game and do a good job."

Terrance Knighton pointed out that even though the team occupying the bottom spot in the AFC West has only pride to play for, a lot of coaches may be playing for their jobs, so No. 98 doesn't expect the game to be anything less than a fight.

In part because the Broncos are playing for a much-needed bye. And just because it's the Raiders.

"There is never a meaningless game for any team," Knighton said. "But most importantly for us, for our goals, we want to have that bye week. It allows us to rest up, get guys back healthy, especially on defense and it'd be a good time to mentally get away from the game for a little bit and get ready for this stretch."

There is never a meaningless game for any team. They don't like us, we don't like them. Denver hates Oakland, so it'll be a hostile environment, and we look forward to playing in it.   -Terrance Knighton

But first, the Raiders. And even though the Broncos-Raiders rivalry is not as strong as it was several years ago, he assures Broncos Country that the intensity of the rivalry on the field is just the same as it's always been.

"Maybe on the outside looking in, but on the field it hasn't. Especially in the trenches where I play, it's real physical," said Pot Roast. "They don't like us, we don't like them, and that is something I adopted coming here as a Bronco. Denver hates Oakland, so it'll be a hostile environment, and we look forward to playing in it."

Von Miller noted that beating a rival twice in the season is tough.

"It's a divisional rivalry. It's hard to beat a team twice and they've been on a hot streak lately," Miller said. "They are starting to play the type of football that everybody expected them to play in the offseason when they put their team together. So it's definitely going to be tough. I think they definitely have incentive to come in here and spoil this for us, because if the shoe was on the other foot, I would be feeling the same way. We just have to go out there and play our game and just stick to the script."

What that script will be exactly is yet to be determined but you can bet that Miller and his partner-in-crime DeMarcus Ware will be getting after Carr.

"I always thought highly of the offensive line and Darren McFadden and everybody they have on offense. But the head of everything is Carr. He's getting better and better every week," Miller added. "We have big-time corners, we have a big-time secondary and we just have to stay on our game."

Let's hope that "game" looks more like the second half of the first matchup against the Raiders and not like the matchup four days ago.

Quotables from the Pro Bowl selectees:

"It's definitely huge. Probably earlier in my career, it didn't mean as much, but now, where I am in my career and all the adversity I had to overcome, it definitely means a lot. This is [Manning's] 14th Pro Bowl and you can tell from the excitement on his face, it feels like it's his first one. It's just such an extreme honor to get voted by your peers, coaches and your fans. So I'm definitely more appreciative of it this year than I ever have been before." - Von Miller

"The guys that made the Pro Bowl deserved it. [There are] a lot of great D-Tackles in this league and it's just one of those positions that have a lot of depth. ...Just to be honored as a snub means that people recognize you're doing something but it's a numbers thing and the guys that made it deserve it." -Terrance Knighton

It's a great honor. We have a lot of impact ballers and to be one of the nine is huge. Guys want to get nominated for it, but we don't want to play in it.   -Chris Harris, Jr.

"It's a great honor. Just coming back from an ACL and get honored for this - making the Pro Bowl - is a huge deal for me, definitely. We have a lot of playmakers, a lot of impact ballers and to be one of the nine, that is huge. We've got to finish the season off. Guys want to get nominated for it, but we don't want to play in it."

"For fans and the peers, players and coaches in the league to look at me and make me an alternate, I think that is just amazing. It's just the beginning. Of course I want to make the Pro Bowl one day, but it's amazing. It's a special feeling and I'm very honored and very humbled and very blessed." - C.J. Anderson

"It feels kind of special because there are a lot of good players. I can say my guy Emmanuel Sanders should have [been selected]. But it's still special because it's tough for guys to make it. We've got a lot of good receivers in the game, so I'm still blessed to make it. I'm happy about it." - Demaryius Thomas

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