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Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos Pick

Oakland Raiders (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), 10:15 p.m. EST, NFL Week 1, Monday Night Football, September 12, 2011, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado, TV: ESPN
by Scotty L, NFL Handicapping Specialist,

Point Spread: Oak +2.5/DEN –2.5
Over/Under Total: 39.5

The Oakland Raiders travel Northeast to take on longtime division rival Denver Broncos in Week One. These former multi-Super Bowl champions have both fallen on hard times. The Raiders are steeped in a decade-long string of futility, while the once-glorious Broncos are coming off an utterly horrible 4-12 campaign. But this is the NFL, where things can turn around rather quickly.

The Raiders have been progressively getting better and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they will continue to improve. The 2010 team more than doubled its point output from the year before. A lot of the credit falls on offensive coordinator Hue Williams, who is now the head coach—taking over for Tom Cable. The Raiders were 8-8 last year, covered 9 times, and showed a lot of upside.

Even more impressive is that they accomplished a nice turnaround season despite little stability at quarterback and a receiving crew that could be charitably called “inconsistent.” This season, it looks like it’s going to be Jason Campbell at QB. It remains to be seen how Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor fits in with this team, but they have until week 6 to decide.

Denver had a rough season, with their controversial coach Josh McDaniels getting fired after a 3-9 start. It had to take a lot out of this team to so quickly fall apart under the young coach. It looked so promising for a while, before totally bottoming out. Whereas a mid-season coaching change can breathe new life into a team, the Broncos had no such luck—going 1-3 in their last 4 games.

New coach John Fox should stabilize the situation. He’s a proven winner, who managed to turn the Carolina Panthers into a team that enjoyed some success. Bringing a team to the playoffs from nothingness is something he has accomplished before. He will have his work cut out—that’s for sure. He inherits the NFL’s worst defense and a roster of players whose heads are not exactly filled with positive thoughts.

Both squads have personnel issues to address. Oakland lost prized CB Nnamdi Asomugha, TE Zach Miller, and OL Robert Gallery, among others. It remains to see if Oakland’s defense will be significantly compromised by that key loss. The O-line will need to plug some holes if this offense will continue to see improvement. If so, expect RB Darren McFadden to flourish after a breakout season where he showed his vast potential. It was still a bit puzzling how the Raiders failed to secure a decent wide receiver in the off-season. Guys like Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey haven’t really been getting the job done. Their lack of clutch and concentration has the tendency to bring this offense to its knees.

Denver’s offensive ability, at least on paper, seems to contradict their stature as one of the worst teams in the AFC. QB Kyle Orton was a real trooper—putting up good numbers despite everything crumbling around him. WR Brandon Lloyd, an 8-year journeyman who never exceeded 733 receiving yards, caught 77 balls for 1448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Second-choice Eddie Royal will help keep defenses on alert, catching 59 balls last year. Throw into the mix new tight end Daniel Fells, with 41 catches in ’10, and this pass catching crew looks to be pretty good this year. They also added RB Willis McGahee, who might be fresh after two years as a back-up in Baltimore. He should help spell injury-prone, but productive Knowshon Moreno.

Denver picked up a group of defensive lineman and selected OLB Von Miller with the 2nd pick. It is doubtful that these moves will be enough to significantly tighten up the league’s worst defense. Even if they are a tad better, it would take a miraculous reversal of form for this to merely be a half-decent “D.”

Scotty L’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This is a key year for the Raiders. On the precipice of being a pretty good team, this is the year where the dye will likely be cast. While Oakland faces a make-or-break type of season, the Broncos are more in rebuilding mode. Their potent offense ensures they will be in some games, but it’s not explosive enough to compensate for a leaky defense. One shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s game in Denver, where the Raiders went nuts in whipping the Broncos 59-14, but look for the Raiders to cover. Take Oakland plus 2.5 points.

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