Sportspicker Fabio Weekly handicapper special: Denver Broncos -3.5 points

Jay Cutler

My inner nerd tells me that the Denver Broncos will defeat the Oakland Raiders by double digits Sunday at McAfee stadium.

Since a players-only meeting following a 37 point defeat to the Detroit Lions, the Broncos have improved their play on both sides of the ball.

Take these post meeting numbers from the past three games into account:

1) Jay Cutler is running the offense with more precision, evidenced by his 5 td’s vs. 2 it’s.
2) The offensive line has given up only 4 sacks and openned up running lanes for an average of 148 yards/contest.
3) When 74 yds from 3rd down super hero Vince Young are subtracted, Denver has allowed only 82 yards rushing per contest.

In today’s NFL, with 32 team expansion and a salary cap, defensive line talent has homogenized throughout the league to the point that the difference between a respectable rush defense and a porous one can come down to concepts as simple as discipline and sacrifice. The Broncos front seven are sacrificing their bodies at the line of scrimmage, and staying more disciplined in their assignments. And the secondary, led by John Lynch, has supported well against the run. Due to the excellent coverage skills of their corners and linebackers, Denver can afford to move Lynch up in the box on first and second down to lend support to the front seven against the run. Given the one-dimensional nature of the Raiders offense, I’m sure that Denver is gameplanning to force Oakland to try to win with their relatively anemic passing attack. The Raiders defense, meanwhile, has displayed neither discipline nor sacrifice, allowing Kansas City rookie running back Kolby Smith to gash them for 150 yards last week. The Raiders have shown no signs of improving their dead last ranked run defense.

Given Jay Cutler’s improved play, and the recent performances of what is now clearly an elite Denver receiving corps, led by favorite targets Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, the Raiders cannot afford the luxury of playing eight in the box on defense in an attempt to stymie the Broncos ground game. Earlier in the season, Cutler was too often finishing drives with interceptions instead of touchdowns. On one play, he’d display a combination of arm strength and quick release that stirred memories of Dan Marino. On the next, he’d look like a deer in headlights, much like any young quarterback would look in a complicated Shanahan offense. Lately, however, Cutler looks more poised and relaxed in the pocket, waiting for either his second or third option to find an opening instead of relying on his arm to force the ball into a tight space. If it wasn’t for Devin Hester, he might have led his team to a double digit victory last week on the road in Chicago. Two weeks ago, he played mistake free football and threw for two touchdowns against the Titans. Despite his youth, Cutler clearly provides a matchup advantage over the Raiders’s post-knee-surgery- Randy-Mossless version of Dante Culpepper.

Take the Broncos minus the 3.5 points and hope that this time the contest won’t be decided by a Mike Shanahan timeout.

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