The most hotly anticipated matchup this weekend comes to us from the East Bay, where the Broncos' vaunted pass rush looks to poke holes in Oakland's impenatrable offensive line. But it may be outside the numbers where the AFC West "prove it" game is won and lost.
Safety T.J. Ward mused, "I feel like they have two good receivers. I don't feel they have two elite receivers.
"So, we have two elite corners. We have three elite corners, and that's their job. So, I think we'll be all right."
Bold as their confidence may be, the Broncos' championship mentality of "we can't be beat" has bore fruit this season. Denver has not allowed a 100-yard receiving game to any wide receiver this season and is just one of three teams to do so (Cowboys, Vikings). The Broncos have also not allowed any quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards in a game this season, and they've faced MVP candidate Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers.
How Carr, a fellow MVP hopeful, performs on a big stage against this opponent will speak not only to his candidacy later in the season, but his status league-wide. The Raiders quarterback has thrown just three picks this season, but two of them came against AFC West rivals, who know the third-year gunslinger's tells.
Big games from Cooper and Crabtree would certainly help Carr's case; the wideouts have combined for six 100-yard receiving games this season, the most by any teammate duo. Cooper, for one, has a plan to make his quarterback look good.
"Derek says he will give us a chance to make plays if we promise that if we can't get it, that we won't let the defensive players get it," Cooper said. "He trusts us to make the catch or knock it down."
With Cooper questionable to play and Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib out with back injuries, Sunday's matchup may be less star-studded, but testy nonetheless. In a game that could decide the fate of the division, one errant throw from Carr or one blown coverage from Ward makes all the difference. Who blinks first?