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 tonight’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,” defensive back Michael Huff said.
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.
But nearly 20 other players acquired since Elway took over the football operations have started games this season, including standout defensive star Von Miller, who has 26½ sacks in less than two seasons.
Manning has come back from a neck injury that sidelined him all last season to set a Denver record with 29 touchdown passes.
The addition of a dangerous passing game to complement a strong defense led by pass rushers Miller and Elvis Dumervil and a solid running game have made the Broncos legitimate contenders in the AFC.
They 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.
“I think our team realizes what a unique opportunity we have and we are trying to take advantage of it,” Manning said. “Those are the kind of guys you want to be around.”
Raiders coach Dennis Allen returned to the team after the death of his father.
Allen flew to the Dallas area on Sunday night to be with his father, Grady, and his family. Grady Allen died Tuesday at age 66 of cardiac arrest.
Dennis Allen came back to the Bay Area in time for practice on Wednesday and will coach the team tonight against the Denver Broncos.
Grady Allen played 59 games over five years as a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons.