DENVER -- If the Purple Haze lifts from over the city, the Broncos will play Sunday. It's kind of a big a deal. The Broncos host the Oakland Raiders in what defensive end Derek Wolfe called "a must-win game."
A sense of urgency exists for this reason: It's hard to see the Broncos claiming the AFC West crown with a division loss at home. If you don't believe it, understand the Chiefs have dominated the West the past two seasons. This game sets up as a rebound. Why?
Let's look at my Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory:
1) Ground control
The Broncos lead the NFL with rush defense. In order, they have stymied Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott and Shady McCoy. Marshawn Lynch is up next. He is a handful. He is also 31 and fighting a clenched-fist brawl with Father Time. Lynch's rushing production has dropped each week: 76, 45, 18. That's a good sign for the Broncos.
2) Press up
It is becoming increasingly unlikely Oakland's Michael "No Chains" Crabtree will play, listed as doubtful with a chest injury. The Raiders' passing game fizzled last week, and it's hard to imagine a bounce back without Crabtree. Washington muzzled Oakland with a Cover 3 zone. Don't look for Denver to use that technique. The Broncos will go man outside and stuff eight in the box. The Dallas game serves as the blueprint.
3) Charles in Charge
Throw on Washington film, and it screams this should be a breakout game for Jamaal Charles. He is a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Oakland struggles with running backs in space. Charles posting fewer than 50 yards receiving would be a shock.
4) Get loose
Emmanuel Sanders has not been himself, plagued by multiple drops. He is due to post his best game given his track record and the favorable matchups in the secondary.
5) A better Trevor
Trevor Siemian continues to show he can win in the NFL if the offense achieves balance. Throwing to set up the run has backfired repeatedly over the last season-plus. Go with the punches to the rib cage with Charles and C.J. Anderson, then use both out of the backfield on screens and wheel routes. The Broncos won't lose if they win the turnover battle.
6) Turnover chain
The Broncos' defense has been salty, but not as opportunistic as hoped. Derek Carr remains difficult to sack. To prevent going down to the ground, he will take chances. Chris Harris Jr. is a strong candidate for a pick.
7) Score early
Denver's defense is monstrous when playing with a lead. The crowd drives opponents bananas, and it allows Von Miller and Shaq Barrett to race to the backfield.