The first time the Broncos and Raiders met, in a Monday-nighter
in November, the teams were headed in opposite directions. Things
looked very bright for the hometown Broncos, who were cruising
along at 6-2. The Raiders, after sprinting out of the blocks at
4-0, had nosedived, losing four straight. Rich Gannon and the
Gnat Attack were getting outscored by tougher offenses that went
straight at the Oakland defense. Plus, the Raiders were in
Denver, where they hadn't won in seven years.

Well, Oakland did just fine that night, jumping to an early lead
and never looking back. The final was 34-10, and the game turned
the season around for both teams. The Raiders got their swagger
back and ran off four more wins. The Broncos went into a spin and
dropped three of their next four. Two of Denver's defensive
starters, tackle Lional Dalton and left corner Deltha O'Neal,
were benched for Sunday's game against the Chiefs, and last week
Mike Shanahan ripped one of his biggest defensive stars, left end
Trevor Pryce, for his lack of production.

Then Denver went out and beat Kansas City, not with any memorable
performance but by outlasting a shorthanded team that made a late
run even without two wide receivers, the starting fullback and
the NFL's best runner, Priest Holmes. Now, a Raiders-Broncos game
that once was shaping up as an afterthought takes on tremendous
meaning because Oakland couldn't get by Miami on Sunday, when a
win would have given the Raiders the AFC West title. Denver,
meanwhile, could steal the division with victories over the
Raiders and then the Cardinals.

On Sunday the Dolphins mixed some zone into their lock-on man
coverage. Sometimes they'd go with six defensive backs in their
ever-shifting scheme, and they kept Gannon on the move with an
active rush. All this held down the Oakland offense, but what won
the game for Miami was that it was able to attack a defense that
was missing two starting corners. A bolder Jay Fiedler used the
deep strike to set up Ricky Williams, who ran for 101 yards. That
isn't Miami's style, but it worked against those jayvee corners.

So who do I like in Denver-Oakland, which will be played in the
Black Hole? Whether those corners are healthy or not, I think
Shanahan's attack will eat up the Raiders' defense and turn the
game into a shootout. After all, the Broncos didn't show me
anything on Sunday to convince me that they can shut down
Oakland. Denver wins in an upset.

Just once, I'd like to know which team that's out of it is
prepared to play the game of its life and hang one of those
shocking upsets on a contender. Minnesota against Miami? No. I'll
go with the Dolphins. Dallas at home against Philly? Not hardly.
The Eagles are zeroing in on home field for the NFC playoff run.
Detroit at Atlanta, Cincinnati at home against New Orleans? No
and no, and I'm ashamed for even including those games here. How
about the Giants at Indianapolis? Hmmm, that's interesting. Maybe
I'd pick a New York win at the Meadowlands, but I can't see the
Giants beating the Colts on the road. What about Buffalo, one of
those AFC desperadoes, against Green Bay, which clinched back in
May sometime? I'd like to give you an upset here, but I just
can't see the Bills beating the Packers at Lambeau. Can't go for
K.C. at home against San Diego until I get final word on Holmes's
hip. If he's ready, I'll ride with the Chiefs. O.K., I've found
my second big upset. The Steelers win the Monday-nighter in
Tampa; the Bucs will be deep into their playoff-clinching

Finally, the Titans beat the Jaguars to get into the
postseason--maybe. --Paul Zimmerman

Check out Dr. Z's Inside Football every week during the season at

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Wideout Rod Smith and the Broncos will have a big day against the banged-up Raiders.