OAKLAND — Just a year ago, Denver and Oakland went to the end of the season in the race for the AFC West title, with the Broncos edging the Raiders for first place on the final day by winning a three-team tiebreaker with San Diego.
Now the teams couldn’t be further apart.
The Broncos (9-3) are riding a seven-game winning streak into Thursday night’s game in Oakland having already wrapped up the division title. They are spending the last month worried about playoff positioning and staying healthy for the postseason.
The Raiders (3-9) have lost five straight and have been eliminated from playoff contention for a 10th straight season as the franchise has regressed in the first year of the new regime led by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.
“It’s definitely disappointing. Coming into the season, we had a new GM, had a new coaching staff and it felt like the sky was the limit, but for some reason — obviously, we had a lot of injuries — but for some reason, we haven’t been on the same page the whole season,” said Oakland defensive back Michael Huff.
“The defense has had their struggles, the offense has their struggles at times, special teams had their struggles at times. It’s like we haven’t just put that complete game together yet. We’re just trying to figure it out and find that perfect game.”
The Broncos figured it out quickly after going 8-8 last year in their first season under front office boss John Elway and coach John Fox. The biggest change came when they acquired quarterback Peyton Manning to replace pedestrian passer Tim Tebow.
Manning has come back from a neck injury that sidelined him all last season to set a Denver record with 29 touchdown passes.
The Broncos clinched the division last week and are tied with New England and Baltimore for second place in the conference and a first-round playoff bye.