The AFC West rivalry is one of the fiercest in the NFL, right up there with Green Bay-Chicago and Dallas-Washington, but Sunday adds a new wrinkle to the saga between the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Broncos and Raiders have a palpable dislike for each other, down through the core of the fan bases, so it’s reasonable to expect things will be heated in Week 4 of the NFL season. But there is something more on the line than just bragging rights and divisional records.
Two head coaches, in their first year with their new teams, have something to prove when Denver visits Las Vegas on Sunday.
Nathaniel Hackett has taken heat for his game management and lack of offensive production, yet the Broncos (2-1) have survived in their last couple of games despite scoring a combined 27 points.
Josh McDaniels, meanwhile, is looking for his first win with the Raiders (0-3) and is facing plenty of criticism. McDaniels has already had a lengthy closed-door meeting with owner Mark Davis and the pressure is mounting on the former New England offensive coordinator to start winning.
Starting 0-3 is bad, but how Las Vegas has lost games has McDaniels creeping toward the hot seat. His team blew a 20-point lead — at home — to Arizona in Week 2 and suffered a two-point loss to Tennessee last week.
While Denver is 2-1 despite outscoring opponents just 43-36 — including a win over San Francisco with the rare 11-10 final last Sunday night — the Raiders have been outscored by 13 points this year. Little mistakes, including costly dropped passes and lack of execution in the overtime loss to the Cardinals, have been significant.
“I don’t think anybody in here should be happy or content with losing. Especially when you have the type of men we have in this locker room,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “And like I’ve said from the very beginning — just because we’re good on paper doesn’t mean we’re going to be great as a team.
“Frustration is OK, as long as you do something about it.”
Playing the Broncos may be the elixir. Las Vegas has won the last four meetings between the teams and is at home this week.
However, Denver didn’t have Russell Wilson at quarterback the last two years, and despite the team’s slow start offensively the defense has been great. Wilson showed why the Broncos traded for him with a late drive in the win over the 49ers and he feels the offense is close to clicking.
“Not every game is going to be perfect, not every game is going to be just right,” Wilson said. “But I do believe we’re right there. I’ve been on a lot of teams, I’ve played a lot of sports, and there’s a special feeling in this locker room, special feeling about where we’re going, where we’re headed.”
Denver is hopeful offensive tackle Billy Turner makes his season debut soon, but it doesn’t look good for this week. Turner (knee) did not practice Wednesday, nor did guard Dalton Risner (ankle), but he is considered day-to-day.
Notable Raiders who missed Wednesday’s practice were wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and cornerback Nate Hobbs, who were listed on the injury report with concussions.