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Broncos-Raiders preview: Scouting the Enemy, the Oakland Raiders, Part II

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Back in October, the Denver Broncos emerged from the Black Hole with a 16-10 win against the Oakland Raiders. This weekend they will have the opportunity to clinch a playoff birth with a win at home against their infamous rival.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders are set for battle this Sunday afternoon in their second meeting of the season, but this battle has more meaning that the one in October.

A variety of playoff implications that can occur this weekend if things fall the right way. The most significant would be a Broncos win against the Raiders, coupled with a Kansas City Chiefs loss against the San Diego Chargers that would give Denver their fifth straight AFC West Championship and guarantee them a home playoff game in the post-season. If the Broncos and Chiefs win, Denver can still secure a playoff spot with a New York Jets or Pittsburgh Steelers loss.

Ultimately, Denver controls their own destiny and can capture the #1 seed in the AFC if they win this weekend and the last three remaining games thereafter. However, the teams sole focus for now is beating the Raiders at home this Sunday in a classic rivalry match-up.  Here is my take on what to look forward to this weekend.

Who's Hot for Oakland

Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack: If there is one player that deserves praise for the incredible season they have had it is certainly Raiders defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack. He has been on an absolute streak of quarterback destruction over the past five games and is beginning to earn the reputation of a player who needs to consistently be accounted for wherever he lines up on the field.

Khalil Mack is averaging a sack per game since November 1st

The second-year player out of the University of Buffalo has amassed six sacks in that time frame, along with 32 tackles with five of them registering as stuffs. For the season, Mack has 53 tackles and 9 sacks -- which ties him for fifth overall in that category league wide.  Without question, Mack is well on his way to becoming one of the best young defensive players in the game and could cause some serious headaches for the Broncos offensive line if he is able to unleash his fury this Sunday.

Don't be surprised to see the Broncos come out in heavy formations with an extra tight end or two often to help in pass protection that will allow them chip away at Mack and a Raiders defensive front that has been aggressive this season under the tutelage of Jack Del Rio. The Broncos pass protection has been suspect all season long and they have given up 12 sacks in the three games Brock Osweiler has started at quarterback. They will need to play extremely well, especially against the ferocious Khalil Mack to bolster their offensive efficiency against the Raiders.

Who's Not Hot for Oakland

Quarterback Derek Carr: After starting off the season with eye-popping performances and statistical output, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has fallen back to earth as of late.  Last weeks performance against the Kansas City Chiefs was his worse of the year, throwing three interceptions and compiling a measly QBR of 68.3.   In a four game span, the second-year player has thrown five interceptions, which is more than what he had thrown in his first eight games.  

Nevertheless, Carr has improved greatly over his rookie season and it looks like the Raiders struck gold by finding themselves franchise caliber players with their first two picks at pinnacle positions in the 2014 NFL Draft.  On the season, Carr has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 3,178 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions with a QBR of 97.7 and those numbers may be good enough to earn him Pro-Bowl consideration.

He will face another tough match-up this weekend against a Broncos defense whose secondary has been elite throughout the course of the year. Alas, he may not have to be at his best and beat the Broncos No Fly Zone through the air in order to come away with a win at Sports Authority Field.

Denver's injury report has a myriad of core players on the defensive front who may not be available for Sunday's gridiron battle.  That being said, I expect the Raiders to use Latavius Murray in a significant capacity and run the ball to wear down the Broncos defense.

The Match Up to Watch

Broncos Rushing Defense vs. Latavius Murray: As mentioned above, I believe the Raiders will use a healthy dose of Murray against Denver this weekend. How Denver prepares to defend against the electric running back will be an important factor in their ability to defeat Oakland on Sunday.

Performing under the radar, Murray quietly leads the AFC in rushing and his 851 yards are fourth best in the NFL after Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin and Jonathan Stewart.  He has accounted for 74 percent of the Raiders rushing output this year and has been an underrated player whose contributions have helped turn their offensive fortune around.

The Broncos defense showed some vulnerability on the interior against the rush last weekend against San Diego and will need improved play from rookie nose tackle Darius Kilgo and his teammates in order to shut down one of the league's hottest running backs.  If they are unable to do so, the Raiders may just be able to pave their way to victory on the legs of Murray.

Hart's Prediction

Denver is undoubtedly the better team, but a large list of injuries could be beneficial for Oakland, who will be fighting valiantly to keep their playoff hopes alive. At the end of the day, I expect Denver to be efficient and play fundamental football with a focus on not turning the ball and forcing turnovers on defense to beat Oakland. I don't believe this game will be a blowout, but I do feel that the Broncos will perform much better against the Raiders than they did in Oakland.

One key stat to keep in mind: The Oakland Raiders have not won a game this season with Derek Carr having a QBR less than 100 and Denver hasn't allowed an opposing quarterback to have a QBR of 100 all season long.  I doubt that tune will change this weekend and I believe the Broncos will win their fourth consecutive game in a row and secure a playoff birth on Sunday.

Denver 24, Oakland 13.