The Oakland Raiders first game against a division opponent is here, and it is sure to be an all-out battle. Whenever you play a rival there's a little extra at stake, and while many of the players will tell you it's just another game, this one is special for a few reasons.
With that being said, let's break down three matchups I'll be observing this Sunday.
**Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree vs. Cornerback Aqib Talib
Entering the Raiders final regular season game of 2016, it was expected to be a heated match, considering it was two division rivals clashing on the gridiron. What many didn't expect however, was for tempers to flare between Crabtree and Talib.
For the unaware, Talib is notorious for his physical style of play, and it's a big reason why he's been successful at the pro level. Slated with covering No. 15, it didn't take long for them to lock horns. With five minutes left in the first quarter, after a play was dead, Crabtree starting walking from the sideline to the huddle, but not before Talib grabbed the former Texas Tech Red Raider's chain and forcefully ripped it off.
The act sparked a spur of comments between the two following the game, and Crabtree didn't mince words.
"You're snatching chains in front of the police [the referees] and take off running," he continued. "That was childish, man."
It's early in the season, but expect Crabtree and Talib to play with a little added incentive this Sunday.
Defensive End Khalil Mack vs. Linebacker Von Miller
Khalil Mack and Von Miller are two of – if not the best – defenders in the NFL. For a majority of their time in the league, the duo have been paired together, and compared in a variety of ways. Over the course of Miller's six years in the league, not including this season, he's totaled 73.5 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, two touchdowns, and 13 passes defensed.
While Mack hasn't been in the league as long as Miller, No. 52 has earned the respect of his peers by overtaking a game, and coming up clutch in the waning moments of games. Obviously Mack and Miller won't go head-to-head physically on the field, but watching them try to out-do one another will be a key component of the game.
Over his career, the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year has feasted against the Broncos, totaling 20 tackles, and seven sacks in six games. The Raiders and the Broncos both sit at 2-1, and a win against a division rival goes a long way, so look for Mack and Miller to battle it out come Sunday.
Running Backs Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, and DeAndré Washington vs. Broncos Front Seven
In 2016 the Broncos ranked 28th against the run, allowing 130.3 rushing yards per game; however, the team has excelled in stopping the run this season, limiting teams to 59.7 yards per game. While the Raiders finished 2017 as one of the more prominent rushing attacks in the league, the team currently ranks 15th with 107 yards per game.
Clearly Lynch is known for his physicality and strength, which will be needed on Sunday against a stout Broncos defense, specifically the front seven. Of course there's Von Miller coming off the edge, but he's assisted by the likes of defensive end Derek Wolfe, and linebackers Shaquil Barrett, and Brandon Marshall.
A majority of the running game's success comes from the blocking up front in the offensive line, and it'll be imperative for the unit to open holes and get the running backs rolling.