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AFC West Rivalry Week: It’s so fun to hate the Raiders

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Many fans here prefer to hate the Chiefs, but for me, the Broncos-Raiders rivalry will always be the biggest, so I’m thrilled to see this matchup become relevant again.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

I hate the Raiders.

I’ve hated them since I was a kid in the 70s/80s watching the Silver and Black get the better of the Orange and Blue almost all of the time.

On those rare occasions the good guys won, the victory was intensely sweet.

Even when the tide turned in the mid-90s under Mike Shanahan, and the Broncos won 21 of 28 contests between 1995-2008, I still hated the Raiders with the passion, fury and vengeance Samuel L. Jackson talks about.

My hate transcended to a new level 10 years ago when I attended a Broncos-Raiders game at The Coliseum and realized that Raiders fans really are just mean to their core.

(*editor’s note: the Raiders still own the series record at 60-49-2, though the Broncos have owned the Raiders in recent seasons, winning eight of the last nine and going 21-11 since the new millennium.)

So as much as I appreciate the Broncos players who say the right things about their opponents – respecting their ability, not discounting their talent, "it’s going to be a tough game between two good teams," yada yada yada – I am much more appreciative of T.J. Ward’s honesty about this AFC West rival.

"I just don’t like them. They’re from Oakland. I just don’t like the Raiders. I couldn’t even tell you. It’s probably something that’s bred in me," said Ward, who was raised in the back yard of the Raiders in the East Bay but grew up a fan of the Niners. "I never liked the Raiders."

Me either, T.J.

Ward and I are soul-brothers on this (or soul-brother/sister? sister/brother? Whatever…he’s with me and I’m with him.)

But in spite of this hate, I have to admit that this year’s Raiders team is the best yet in at least a decade – a trend that was in the works last season when Jack Del Rio took over.

With a few superstars in the making via quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and defensive end Khalil Mack, this Raiders team is still fighting its way back to the adult table. But it’s definitely on its way.

Ward and his teammates know this too. Although the safety got some headlines earlier in the week for saying Oakland receivers Cooper and Michael Crabtree were "good but not elite," he was not wrong.

Bradley Roby, who may sub as a NFZ starter for Aqib Talib again, is looking forward to them challenging Ward’s comment.

"[Carr] is getting the ball out a lot faster. They’re doing a great job of protecting him. He’s making good decisions and things like that," Roby said, adding that Carr is showing his growing comfort level with an NFL offense every year.

But that won’t impact how the secondary plays Carr.

"Nothing changes. We do our job," Roby pointed out. "At the end of the day, him getting it out fast doesn’t change what I’m going to be doing really."

Chris Harris Jr., who had a pick-six against the Raiders in Oakland last year, is also ready for the rival game. Del Rio called the cornerback the "most competitive player" he’s been around, and CHJ did not disagree.

"That’s who I am. I’m never going to change. As soon as I get on the field, I’ll challenge anybody," Harris Jr. said. "Jack knows that. His receivers have to be ready to compete all day. He’s probably telling them about me."

No doubt. And Harris Jr. is looking forward to corroborating the story.

"They threw the ball everywhere. [Carr] has so much confidence in Crabtree and Cooper, he’ll just throw it up to them, so we have a lot of chances to get picks," said Harris Jr. "He’s going to give us a lot of chances to make plays."

Given that Mack will be gunning for Trevor Siemian on the other side of the ball, the Broncos will certainly need Harris Jr. and the No Fly Zone to make many, many of those plays.

Regardless, Siemian says he’s excited about experiencing the Raiders rivalry for the first time as a starting quarterback.

And perhaps for the first time in a long time, when these decades-old AFC West rivals meet on Sunday night, the "rivalry" part will actually be true.

Both teams sit at 6-2 vying for the sole lead, one boasts the NFL’s top passing defense while the other has a top-five passing offense. One team has won on the arm of its quarterback while the other has won on the hands of its defense.

Finally this rivalry feels like it matters.

"It’s a big game. It’s a playoff game, divisional game, Sunday night. It’s not going to get more intense than that," Ward said, adding that the Broncos aren’t more excited because it’s an AFC West rival but because it’s just another game they need to win to accomplish their goals. "We’re trying to win this division again, and it doesn’t matter [if it’s] Raiders, San Diego or Kansas City. Whoever it is, we’re coming with that same motivation we have coming into the week to win the game."

Perhaps. But I know from my junior high basketball glory days (and those were big-time, let me tell you), that any contest against a rival has an energy like no other, and it always adds intensity.

I, for one, am thrilled this rivalry is getting closer to the good ol’ days, so I can keep the hate alive.

I know, I know. It’s not very evolved or mature, but I hate the Raiders.

And I love hating them.

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