Denver a test of Oakland’s mettle – NFL Week 9 Preview

Halfway through the season now and we are getting to the stage where every game matters. This week on Sky there are a couple of big divisional matches. It starts on Sunday evening with the Eagles travelling to the Giants and then the Broncos head to Oakland in what could be a decider in the AFC west.

There will also be radio coverage of the Colts at Packers on 5 Live Sports Extra.

Eagles at Giants

Last meeting: Eagles 35 Giants 30 (3/1/16)
Overall record: Giants lead series 84-80-2

This could be a huge game in the NFC east. Both teams sit at 4-3, already two wins back from the Cowboys and whoever loses will be in real trouble with it looking like it will take at least 10 wins to get a wild card spot.

The Eagles come into this one on the back of an overtime loss to Dallas in a game that they looked set to win as they held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Carson Wentz had another good game despite offensive line issues but couldn’t get the Eagles over the line in a loss that could come back to haunt them in January.

There has been some criticism that Wentz and the offence aren’t going downfield. While that is true, it is more to do with the lack of protection and time that means it is almost impossible for them to do so even if they wanted to. Since Lane Johnson has been missing through suspension, Halapoulivaati “Big V” Vaitai has been in at right tackle. The rookie has struggled since coming into the line-up and the whole offensive line will need to improve in the second half of the season if the Eagles are going to make it to the postseason. The Giants defence has been much improved from last season and in their last game at Twickenham picked up four interceptions. They could cause Wentz problems all day if the protection doesn’t improve.

The Giants offence has been more than a little underwhelming. On paper the lineup of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz should be one of the league’s best passing attacks but they just haven’t got going yet. There have been signs of life but they have been few and far between. Giants fans will be hoping that the team have been able to fix some of those issues during the bye. The Eagles have been one of the stingiest pass defences so far this season, giving up a little over 200 yards per game. This will be a key matchup in this one.

This game really could go either way with two good defences going up against two faltering offences. It could well be the game of the week.

Titans at Chargers

Last meeting: Chargers 17 Titans 20 (22/9/13)
Overall record: Chargers lead series 26-17-1

The Chargers may well be the best 3-5 team in the history of the NFL. Despite the seemingly endless injuries, Philip Rivers gives them a chance to win in every game. The problem for them is that they are in the most competitive, if not the best division in football. Three games back from the Raiders and Broncos already, the playoffs may well be out of reach.

It’s a different story for the Titans however. The AFC south has been terrible. No team has performed consistently and Tennessee have a real chance to take the division crown. At 4-4 they are just one game from first place behind a Texans team that doesn’t feel capable of getting to more than nine wins. The week seven loss to the Colts was a setback but they have a real chance to make a run in the second half with Marcus Mariota appearing to be finding some form.

The last game saw them absolutely dominate the dreadful Jaguars and that was built around a strong running game, particularly from DeMarco Murray. He sits second in rushing behind Ezekiel Elliot and looks to be back to the form that saw him named the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. Between him and rookie Derek Henry the team really have an identity. One that can take the Titans to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Rivers should probably be mentioned as an MVP candidate despite the team’s poor record. He hasn’t been perfect but it is hard to blame him. He has been without his no.1 receiver amongst others for most of the season. He has played at a really high level and is one of the reasons that the Chargers are perhaps the most fun team in the league to watch.

It could well be too late for San Diego but this could be an important game for Tennessee. A win would put them in good shape for the second half of the season.

Broncos at Raiders

Last meeting: Raiders 15 Broncos 12 (13/12/15)
Overall record: Raiders lead series 61-50-2

This could be a decisive game in the AFC west. The top two teams in the division meet in a game that could really prove if the Raiders are for real or just another team in this conference. A win against the reigning Super Bowl champions should silence the remaining doubters.

Derek Carr has been fantastic so far this season and is amongst the favourites for this season’s MVP award. He has been helped by an excellent offensive line but week in, week out, Carr has found a way to get the team over the line. Last week he gave the team multiple chances to win it against the Buccaneers but missed field goals meant it went to the final couple of minutes of overtime. On fourth down he found Seth Roberts who, with the help of some bad tackling, found his way into the end zone to give Oakland their sixth win of the season already.

If Carr can continue his fine run, the Raiders have a real chance to secure their first winning record and playoff football for the first time since 2002 where they lost in the Super Bowl.

The Broncos have picked up where they left off last season. There are a few great defences in the league right now, but Denver may well be the best of them. Von Miller is many people’s pick for Defensive Player of the Year over the first half of the season and he is just part of why the defence is so good. Even if Aqib Talib misses the game with a back injury, they have so much strength in depth that they should cope just fine. They will be tested though against arguably the best reciever tandem in the league in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.

This game has all the ingredients to be a great match. It’s strength vs strength with the Broncos defence and the Raider offence and whoever comes out on top will be in a great position to make a run at a first round bye.

Bills at Seahawks

Last meeting: Seahawks 50 Bills 17 (16/12/12)
Overall record: Seahawks lead series 7-5

It looked as though things had turned around for the Bills when they went on a winning streak that got them right into things in the AFC, but two straight losses to division rivals have seen them fall back.

Injuries have played a big part with LeSean McCoy missing last week’s game as well as the likes of Robert Woods struggling in recent weeks. It’s not going to get any easier against the Seahawks defence that is playing as well as ever. Cliff Avril in particular has been superb and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. He is on pace to match his best ever sack total of 11 from 2011. He could well go a long way to getting there with a big game against the struggling Bills.

Percy Harvin has come out of retirement and re-joined the Bills. He could well be active for the game against his old team but it is hard to see him having too much of an impact after spending so much time away from the game.

Russell Wilson hasn’t lived up to expectations this season with just five touchdowns so far but that can almost entirely be put down to a combination of injuries and a poor offensive line. Wilson’s mobility and elusiveness have masked issues in that department but with his own health issues, he has not been able to in 2016. As Wilson gets healthier, the offence should improve and it is hard to see them not being in the mix in January.

The Seahawks are looking good in the NFC west but any more losses could see them fall too far behind the Cowboys in the race for the number one seed. The Bills need this one to stay in contention in the AFC. This could be an important game for both teams come the end of the season and could have a big impact on the playoff race in both conferences.

Follow Author Dave Gray on twitter at djg23

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