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Scouting the enemy: Oakland Raiders

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The Denver Broncos face a tough opponent this weekend when they travel to the Black Hole to take on the Oakland Raiders in an epic rivalry game that will decide who is the sole leader of the AFC West.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Thirteen years ago, Samuel L. Jackson gave one of the best introductions for Monday Night Football that I have ever seen. I'm sure you all are familiar of what I'm talking about, but if you aren't, I've posted the clip below for you to enjoy and help get you pumped up for Sunday night's game that will decide who is the sole leader of the AFC West.

What Jackson said then still rings true today — the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders absolutely hate each other. The Broncos-Raiders rivalry is undoubtedly one of the most historic in all of football.  The two franchises have met 113 times on the gridiron since 1960, with Oakland leading the head-to-head series with 61 wins, losing 50 games and tying two with Denver.

The Broncos have narrowed that gap immensely in the past five years, with eight wins in their last ten meetings.  It has been a long time since the Raiders have been remotely competitive, but Sunday's affair will be one of the most important games of the season for both of them, with the winner cementing themselves as the cream of the crop in the AFC West.

In his second season as head coach of the Raiders, Jack Del Rio has led his team to an impressive 6-2 start.  Five of those wins have been on the road, and have only won a single game out of three at home.  They boast a top five offense, led by Derek Carr who is having an MVP caliber season and a wealth of impressive options such as Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray on that side of the ball.

It is an immense challenge for the Broncos, who will be without star cornerback Aqib Talib on Sunday.  To come out of the Black Hole with a win, they will have to play some of their best football to date. Here are a few things to take notice of in regard to Sunday Night Football's match-up between the Broncos and Broncos.

A Concern for Oakland - Defensive Mediocrity

The Oakland Raiders have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but their performance on the defensive side of the ball leaves a lot to be desired.

They allow 285 yards per game through the air and 125 yards a game on the ground, with their combination of yards allowed being the second worst in the league, only ahead of the tragically pathetic Cleveland Browns. They rank 22nd in the league in regard to points allowed, giving up 25.4 points a game.

The Broncos' offense has struggled quite a bit through the first half of the season, but Sunday's game against the Raiders presents them with an opportunity to show they can be much better than how they have performed to date.  Oakland's secondary is vulnerable, which may provide Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders the chance to have big games, as long as Denver's offensive line is able to protect second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian and give him the time he needs to make plays down the field.

The X-Factor for Oakland - Derek Carr

There is no doubt that third-year quarterback Derek Carr is the man that is getting the job done for the Oakland Raiders,  I've been absolutely impressed by his progression to date and commend him on his demonstrable improvement and maturity this season.

Carr is quietly having one of the best seasons for any quarterback the entire league this season.  In just eight games, he has thrown for 2,321 yards, 17 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions.  He is completing over 66 percent of his passes and sports a 100.9 overall QB rating.  It is safe to say that he is firmly in the hunt for league MVP honors and has a great shot at winning it if he is able to keep up that sort of performance in the second half of the season and lead the Raiders into the post season.

The Broncos have faced a lot of top-tier quarterbacks this year and have had resounding success.  They will need that streak to continue in order to stop a red hot Raiders' offense led by the former Fresno State product.

Key Matchup's to Watch

Denver's Defensive Line vs. Oakland's Offensive Line

The Oakland Raiders boast one of the league's top offensive lines.  They have done a phenomenal job protecting Carr, who has only been sacked 9 times on the season.  Their efforts have contributed to the Raiders being 4th in passing yards per game and 8th in rushing yards per game.

Denver's defensive line will need to perform at an elite level and do whatever it takes to get after Carr.  He has only been hit a league best 17 times this year, and if the Raiders' offensive line is able to keep him clean throughout the course of the game, it may be a long day for the Broncos' defense.

Furthermore, on a handful of occasions, the Broncos' defensive line has failed to get the job done in that regard, and furthermore has struggled with containing opposing running backs who have diced and dashed their way for big gains.  They can't allow that to happen if they want to leave the Black Hole with a victory Sunday night.

Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby vs. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree

With Aqib Talib out, the pressure will be on Bradley Roby to come in and help Chris Harris Jr. defend against one of the top receiving duos in the NFL in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

The two receivers have combined for 99 catches for over 1,300 yards and 8 touchdowns in one half of play this season and are on pace to put up astronomical numbers if they continue their high-caliber of play.  The Broncos' will need DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett to put together a great pass rushing performance on Sunday night to put the pressure on Carr and alleviate the burden the Broncos' secondary could have if he has ample time to get throws off in the pocket.

Hart's Prediction

The Broncos have fared well by winning six of their first eight games this season, but a win against the Raiders on Sunday Night Football would give them the momentum they need to start off the second half of the 2016 campaign with a bang.  The team that wins the turnover battle will be the victor in this game.

I expect the Broncos' defense to come up big and give Carr and the Raiders' offense everything they have and help limit their offensive prowess to come away with a victory on the road in Oakland.  It won't be easy, but I have a feeling that the Broncos will squeak away with a win and leave the Black Hole on top of the AFC West.

Broncos, 27.  Raiders, 24.