OAKLAND — Two years after finishing tied atop the AFC West with eight wins apiece, the Denver Broncos and Raiders couldn't be farther apart.
The Broncos (12-3) head into Sunday's season finale at Oakland (4-11) needing a win to clinch the top seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs for the second straight year. The Raiders are stumbling to the finish of another disappointing season.
The reason for the change in fortunes for the two franchises is simple. The Broncos brought in Peyton Manning as quarterback last season and he has responded in record-setting fashion.
Manning broke Tom Brady's single-season touchdown pass record last week by throwing his 51st and needs 266 yards passing this week to break Drew Brees' single-season mark.
“It's only a special thing when it comes at the same time as winning games,” Manning said. “If we were 3-12 at this point, it would not have been a unique or special accomplishment for the team because it didn't help you win games.”
The Raiders are still searching for answers at quarterback. Terrelle Pryor showed promise early this season before falling into a rut that, along with a knee injury, gave undrafted rookie Matt McGloin a chance to start.
McGloin made a stellar debut with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in a win at Houston, but lost his last five starts, giving Pryor another chance to start in the season finale as the Raiders seek any kind of spark.
“He adds those explosive plays,” receiver Rod Streater said. “Having him back there, you never know what to expect and you always expect the big play.”
Here are five things to watch when the Broncos visit the Raiders:
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Broncos have already wrapped up a first-round bye in the playoffs, but they can clinch home-field advantage with either a win or a tie or a New England loss or tie. Home field hasn't always been kind to Manning in the postseason: Manning's five home losses are the most of any starting quarterback in NFL history. He lost his only home playoff start with the Broncos last season in a 38-35 overtime defeat to Baltimore.
“It's a crazy last week of the season,” Manning said. “I think the NFL making that change to these division games the last week is going to provide some exciting football this weekend and we're a part of that.”
JOB STATUS: The final game of the season also could be the final game in Oakland for coach Dennis Allen. Owner Mark Davis has said he will wait until the end of the season to make any decision about the coaching staff. Allen has an 8-23 record in his first two seasons as the Raiders have been hampered by bad contracts and bad drafts in the final years of late owner Al Davis' tenure. No Raiders coach has even been brought back after two straight losing seasons.
“I really don't want to get into all the speculation,” Allen said. “There will be a time and place for that and I don't think right now this is the time or the place.”
MISSING MILLER: The Broncos once again will have to make do without star pass rusher Von Miller, who had a season-ending right knee injury last week. Denver started the season 6-0 while Miller was suspended. While it should be able to get by this week without him, Miller's absence could be crucial come playoff time. Miller has 35 sacks in 40 career games.
“You can't replace what he can do on the field, but we just have to continue to play as a unit and try to limit our mistakes mentally and make teams beat us physically,” cornerback Chris Harris said.
STREATER'S GOAL: Streater's quest to become the first Raiders player with a 1,000-yard receiving season since Randy Moss had a hiccup last week when he was held to one catch for 2 yards. An apparent 39-yard touchdown was waved off when he did not complete the process of the catch all the way to the ground. Streater needs 152 yards this week to reach the milestone just two years after entering the league as an undrafted free agent.
RACE FOR RECORDS: Along with Manning going for the yards passing record, the Broncos have a shot at another impressive mark. Denver needs 18 points to break New England's single-season mark of 589 set in 2007, and 28 to become the first team to reach 600 in a season. Since Manning arrived last season, the Broncos have scored at least 18 points in all but one regular-season game. If the Raiders allow 40 points, they will break the 1961 team record for most points allowed in a season with 459.