OAKLAND, Calif. -- The setting fits the combatants. Two sinking ships collide Sunday in Oakland as the 3-7 Broncos face the 4-6 Raiders.
This wasn't supposed to happen. These teams were expected to battle for AFC West supremacy. The Broncos long ago ditched dreams of winning the division. They are looking to win a game. They haven't triumphed since Oct. 1 against Oakland.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch makes his debut in attempt to inject life into the Broncos' season. If nothing else, it offers intrigue. With that, let's look at the Denver7 keys to a victory:
Run the ball
Don't complicate the issue. The Broncos are starting a quarterback they have told to tuck it under and scramble, especially on third down. It's expected to rain throughout the day. Are the Broncos mudders? Time to find out.
Take care of the ball
The Broncos rank 31st in turnover margin. They talk about the need for a fair game. Well, it is fair when it starts. Denver makes it uneven with mistakes. Lynch will be presented a plan that suits his skillset. Use quick passes, run-pass options, and if the running attack works, a few deep strikes to Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas. The Raiders do not have an interception this season. They are vulnerable.
Don't be stubborn
Lynch lost the job in camp because he couldn't lift the fog in the middle of the field. New coordinator Bill Musgrave is determined to build off Lynch's strengths, and keep it simple. So, do it. We've talked about in this space: the Broncos' scheme not fitting the personnel. It cost Mike McCoy his job. Today, the Broncos should be run heavy.
Takeaway their heart
The Broncos offense represents low-hanging fruit. We all know it's been bad. But the defense cannot escape blame. The Broncos have posted seven takeways, second fewest in the NFL. If this game gets sloppy, no excuse exists for not getting the ball on the ground.
Stop the run
With Adam Gotsis likely out or limited, the Broncos rush defense will be challenged. The team added Kyle Peko to the active roster. This is a game built for grunts Domata Peko and Derek Wolfe. The Raiders have long been one dimensional as Marshawn Lynch has fizzled. It needs to stay that way for Denver to win.
Keep it close
The Broncos have been outscored 61-16 in the first quarter and 119-31 in the first half during their six-game losing skid. It has compromised the defense, leaving the group reactionary. Playing with a lead would help unleash Von Miller. Shaq Barrett could play significant snaps as well with Shane Ray dealing with an ankle/knee injury.
Put a post in the ground
When looking back at the Broncos' recent dominance, it started with winning on the road in the AFC West. They reeled off an NFL record 15 straight wins in rival visiting parks. However, they haven't won an AFC West road game since Peyton Manning retired, a skid at five and counting. "We use to have mind control over the division," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 20, Raiders 17