It's time to *finally *open divisional play.
After three weeks of the regular season, the Oakland Raiders are now in Denver to open their AFC West slate of games against the Broncos.
Both teams are coming off losses last week, so there will likely be an added sense of urgency when the game kicks off Sunday afternoon.
Headed into the big game you had some questions, and now, we have answers; here is this week's Raiders.com Mailbag.
From Evan C: Is there a different feel headed into division games? Do the players feel it?
EP:All 16 games in the regular season are extremely important. The NFL isn't the NBA or MLB where a bad game or two here or there won't drastically alter the course of a season. In the NFL, each game is vitally important, but I have to say, there is a certain added emphasis on taking care of business within the division. Since he arrived in Oakland, Head Coach Jack Del Rio has constantly reiterated the importance of winning the division; not only is it the quickest way into the postseason tournament, it also puts the team in a position to host a playoff game in said tournament. Since Del Rio came to town, the Silver and Black have been incredibly competitive in the division, but as of yet, they haven't been able to come home with an AFC West banner. That mission starts again Sunday against the Broncos, and I must say, there is a different feeling headed into a division game, especially on the road. To answer the second part of your question, I really do think that the players feel that extra intensity. They know how much is on the line in these six games, so I fully expect Sunday to be a lot of fun.
From Kenny P: What's the key to Derek Carr bouncing back?
EP:Look, did Carr have his best game last weekend against the Washington Redskins? Certainly not, but to those people who are concerned about "DC" going forward, let me borrow a phrase from Aaron Rodgers and just encourage those folks to R-E-L-A-X. Carr is one of the best, ascending quarterbacks in the game – he has the body of work to back that up – but he just had a bad day at the office in Washington D.C., nothing more, and nothing less. So how does Carr get back to his typically, high-flying ways? Well, I think, it's just a matter of taking what the Denver defense gives him, and not forcing any passes that he doesn't need to. Carr is at his best when he's aggressive, making the throws that many NFL quarterbacks simply don't have the arm strength to make, but it's key for him to channel that aggression, and make sure he's doing it at the right moments in the game. Anyways, I digress. Carr will be just fine going forward, and even though he's set to square off against one of the best secondaries in the NFL on Sunday, I think he's going to be back to his usual self.
From Jeremiah B: Von Miller is off to a hot start again. How can we keep him contained?
EP:With players like Von Miller – and Khalil Mack for that matter – it really does take a team effort to try to keep them in check. Mack has consistently feasted when teams try to throw just a single lineman at him, and Miller falls in that same category as well. Because of the pure talent that Miller possesses, he's one of those rare players that an offense has to account for every single play he's on the field. I talked to Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington this week, and they both told me that when you go against a player like Von Miller, the running backs also have to be aware of where No. 58 is at all times too. Both also said they've improved at their pass protection skills since last season, which is a good thing, because I'm sure that both of them, along with Marshawn Lynch will have their hands full Sunday.
From Shelby H: For the Raiders to win the game, which matchup is the most important for them to win? GO RAIDERS!!!
EP:First off, love the enthusiasm, Shelby. For the Raiders to fly back with an ever-important road win under their belts Sunday evening, every player needs to take care of their respective job, but if I have to narrow it down to just one, I would say this is going to be a big weekend for the team's wide receivers. The prowess of the Broncos secondary is well known; with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., and Bradley Roby, there likely isn't a more talented group from top to bottom in the NFL, but if the Silver and Black want to be effective offensively, Amari Cooper and Co., are going to have to find a way to gain some separation from them. Coach Del Rio always talks about the running game and the passing game working in concert, so if Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing wants to be able to feed The Beast effectively, he's going to need the Raiders wide receivers to take care of business on the outside. That's certainly no easy task against the Denver defense, but it's one I know the Silver and Black are up to.
From Chandler B: Will Khalil Mack have another repeat, five-sack performance?
EP:Man, that would be pretty awesome, huh? That game in Denver is still one of my favorite that I've ever covered, and I likely will never forget it. That second half in particular, Mack was a man possessed, and there was just that feeling in the stadium that whatever the Broncos did to try to stop him would be of no use. Now, will No. 52 be able to replicate that outing this Sunday afternoon? Who knows, but I do fully anticipate him being a thorn in the side of the Broncos offense all day. Through three games, the Broncos have surrendered nine sacks, and since Mack has gotten rolling the past two weeks, I expect that hot streak to continue in the Mile High City. Oh, and with old friend Menelik Watson lining up at right tackle for the Broncos, I'm sure there's going to be a little extra blood pumping for No. 52 once the game gets underway.
From Drew B: Is the altitude in Denver really a factor?
EP:Well, I won't be running around for 60 minutes come Sunday, so I'm probably not the best person to ask about that, but I do know that Coach Del Rio and his staff take all the proper precautions to ensure that the players are geared up come game time, and can maintain their wind for the duration of the game. This is now the Raiders third time going to Denver under Del Rio's guide, and the previous two trips haven't seemed to be thrown off by the altitude. I expect that rule to hold true this trip as well.