Denver Broncos (3-10) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
PREDICTION: Raiders 28-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: Broncos QB Kyle Orton is playing through a rib injury that could have contributed to consecutive poor outings. But he's slated to start this week as the Broncos have resisted switching to rookie Tim Tebow. With Denver's defense crumbling down the stretch, the offense needs to flow through RB Knowshon Moreno working against the league's 26th-ranked run defense. Raiders RB Darren McFadden is coming off a 123-yard rushing game and poured in 165 with three scores in Oakland's 59-14 romp in Denver in Week 7.
FAST FACTS: Denver has won six of its past seven games at Oakland. ... McFadden needs seven rushing yards to become Oakland's first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Fargas (1,009) in 2007.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
It remains to be seen as the week progresses what will win out -- action or words -- as it pertains to Denver's starting quarterback.
Tim Tebow took the majority of practice snaps for a second straight day Thursday.
Kyle Orton continues to get treatment on his ribs, and while he was in uniform both days, was an observer as Tebow and Brady Quinn threw passes unencumbered during position drills during the open media period. He was listed as limited for the second straight day on the injury report.
That would point to Tebow's first NFL start this Sunday in Oakland.
The coaches, though, have given no definitive word on the situation, saying that there is still plenty of time for Orton to recover and be under center for the 14th straight game.
And when offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was asked whether he thought Orton would be ready, he responded, "Yeah, I do."
Orton's off-time this week represents his first missed practices this season.
"You've got to rest certain guys on a day-to-day basis and kind of see how it goes and make sure that, come Sunday, they're at full speed and ready to go," McCoy said. "That's the most important thing -- the health of our football team."
Interim coach Eric Studesville maintained that Orton could conceivably play without any practice snaps during the week "theoretically," taking advantage of the mental repetitions while Tebow and Quinn are running the game plan physically.
"We still have time," Studesville said. "I'm not in a hurry to make that decision right now. We've still got a lot of time to do rehab and take care of the bumps and bruises we have, not just with Kyle ... and as long as we've got time, we're going to utilize it."
The work that Tebow is getting, regardless, is vital if there are any allusions that he will make a significant appearance this season. Earlier this week, the rookie first-rounder admitted with all the scout-team work he's done, it's left only about five percent of the snaps against the scout-team defense, running Denver's playbook.
"To really have a chance to run the plays physically and not just go over them mentally and handling the small details of each play and things like that (helps)," Tebow said before Thursday's practice. "I think trying to study hard all year and be ready for every opportunity helps. And now to go out there and do it physically obviously helps a lot."
And how did he fare?
The results were typically upbeat publicly. McCoy said Tebow ran the huddle; did a nice job throwing the football and going through alert systems in the run game.
"He looked efficient in practice. Of course, it's practice and the live bullets are more difficult to deal with than practice," said wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who watched Wednesday's practice from the sideline. "But I think with his athletic ability and physical ability, more of what's going to help him is knowing the game plan and on each play what's expected of him. So that way when he goes out there he can just be an athlete making plays."
Darren McFadden has gone from not meeting expectations to exceeding them.
After a disappointing first two seasons where he was outperformed by seven running backs that followed him in the NFL draft, McFadden showed signs early this season things would be different.
In Oakland's first three games, McFadden gained 345 yards -- eight yards shy of what he got in 12 games in 2009.
Then came a 12-carry, 47-yard effort against Houston, followed by a hamstring strain, and the whispers started again.
Injuries had been a primary cause of McFadden's disappointing first two seasons, which brought only 856 yards, five touchdowns and a 3.9 yards-per-carry average.
As McFadden sat out the next two games, it seemed a fair question. Would he ever approach being the kind of player who was one of the greatest Southeastern Conference running backs of all time and the No. 4 overall pick in the draft?
Less than two months later, as the Raiders prepare to host the Denver Broncos at the Coliseum, the answer is a resounding yes.
"I'm very comfortable," McFadden said. "I know what my role is. Coach (Tom) Cable told me he was going to give me the ball."
Despite missing those two games, McFadden has 993 yards rushing and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also has a career-best 39 catches for 437 yards and has 10 touchdowns overall.
In last week's 38-31 loss to Jacksonville, McFadden rushed 16 times for 123 yards, scored on runs of 31 and 57 yards and opened the scoring with a 67-yard touchdown reception from Jason Campbell.
It was his best day since the Oct. 24 game against Denver, the day when McFadden proved things were different this year.
Entering the first Denver game, it wasn't a lock that McFadden would even play. The Raiders were coming off a desultory 17-9 loss to the 49ers with McFadden sitting it out. When McFadden talked with the media that Friday, he said he was "70-30" to even be active.
Two days later, McFadden and the Raiders ignited simultaneously.
By the time Denver had run its third offensive play, Oakland led 21-0 on a 43-yard Campbell pass to Zach Miller, a 30-yard interception return by Chris Johnson and a 4-yard run by McFadden.
McFadden later added a 19-yard scoring reception from Campbell, a 4-yard run and a 57-yard run for a career-high four touchdowns. He finished with a career high 165 yards on 16 carries plus two pass receptions for 31 yards.
All in a game where it wasn't clear that he would even play.
McFadden is coming off a similar game against Jacksonville, and any doubts about his draft worth and $25.5 million in contract guarantees have been erased.
Outgained by Carolina's Jonathan Stewart (No. 13), Dallas' Felix Jones (No. 22), Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall (No. 23), Tennessee's Chris Johnson (No. 24) in the first round and by Chicago's Matt Forte (No. 44) and Baltimore's Ray Rice (No. 55) in the second, McFadden is averaging more yards per game than any of them this season and only Rice can rival what he does as a receiver.
And to think there were draft-day rumors that McFadden could be had for a draft pick. Oakland quickly moved to dispel those rumors, and Cable says what McFadden has accomplished is what the Raiders expected.
"He is healthy. When he's been healthy he's been very, very productive, so I'm not surprised by it," Cable said. "When he's been on the field he's shown he is very much the guy we drafted. His talent and what he's giving to this football team has proven that."
McFadden only had one 100-yard game in his first two seasons as he battled turf toe, shoulder and then knee problems.
His speed to the perimeter was undeniable, as McFadden was a training camp star in each of his first two seasons.
Training camp, however, does not include tackling to the ground except in rare circumstances, and McFadden's critics noted skinny legs and a reluctance to run hard in traffic.
To fans fearful of another first-round bust to follow JaMarcus Russell, one of McFadden's nicknames was "McFalldown," because he seemed to go down far too easily.
Flash forward to 2010, where McFadden has shown breakaway skill but also the ability to finish runs with a brutal effectiveness In the win over Denver, McFadden caught a 19-yard screen pass and ran right through Denver safety Renaldo Hill at the 4-yard line to make it into the end zone.
When the Raiders beat the Chargers 28-13, McFadden, who gained 97 yards on 17 carries, lowed his shoulder and blew up San Diego safety Eric Weddle to reach the end zone.
He has been as adept at running inside as outside.
"Look at the violence that kid brings," Cable said, crediting running backs coach Kelly Skipper with teaching McFadden to run behind his pads both on the perimeter and inside the box.
McFadden, who outwardly never showed even a trace of frustration in media sessions as he struggled through two years, conceded he used the criticism as motivation. He's fine with running between the tackles, and always has been fine with it.
"I'm a running back, whatever coach decides to call, I'm up for it," McFadden said. "I'm supposed to be able to run down the middle or outside, so whatever he calls for me, I feel good about it."
As for the slow start, McFadden said, "My first two years, I guess I was just trying to find my way and get comfortable out there."
--QB Brady Quinn took about 20-30 percent of the first-team snaps as a backup plan should Kyle Orton miss Sunday's game. However, Tim Tebow clearly has surpassed Quinn on the depth chart and would start the game.
--WR Brandon Lloyd (calf) returned to practice after a one-game practice and is expected to play Sunday. He seemed to run routes unencumbered during the open media period.
--PK Matt Prater (right groin) was back on the practice field after extensive rehabilitation and sitting out the Arizona game. Prater needs to gauge whether he can take on a full workload, though Steven Hauschka remains on the roster as a Plan B.
--S David Bruton (ribs) returned to practice Thursday after an off-day. Bruton has been starting in place of Brian Dawkins, who remains out with a knee injury. But it also appears Darcel McBath (thigh) was thought to be ready to go, which should give Denver options, particularly in their three-safety, dime look. But he was designated as a full practice participant Wednesday and only limited Thursday.
--NT Jamal Williams appeared on the injury report but his inclusion will be for the regular team practice of giving him an occasional day off to remain fresh throughout the season.
--S Brian Dawkins (knee) and WR Demaryius Thomas appear to be long shots to play Sunday.
--LB Rolando McClain did not practice with a sore left foot for the second straight day. The cause of his soreness has yet to be diagnosed. He did not play against Jacksonville.
--DT Richard Seymour did not practice with a sore knee on Wednesday, but his absence was more of a veteran maintenance issue than because of injury, and he was able to get on the field in a limited capacity on Thursday.
--CB Nnamdi Asomugha rested his sore ankle on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday. He is expected to start against Denver.
--WR Johnnie Lee Higgins did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury and was limited Thursday. His status is unknown for the Denver game.
--KR Nick Miller was limited with an ankle injury and would be the punt return specialist if Johnnie Lee Higgins can't play.
--DT David Howard was added to the practice squad, replacing Kellen Heard, who was signed off the Oakland practice squad by the Buffalo Bills.
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