After a pair of down weeks the Broncos seem to be back in fighting form, reassuring fans that their two losses this season were casualties of outside stresses (like their ill head coach and an ailing quarterback) with their win against the Chargers. It’s great timing for the Broncos to get their groove back considering they head to Oakland this week for what should be the matchup of the year so far.

“This was a playoff game for us” safety Darian Stewart said after Sunday’s game against San Diego. “To get where we have to go, we have to win these types of games and this was a big test for us. We had guys out and we needed other guys to step and they did. I’m happy we’re where we’re at and we’ll get ready for Oakland.”

In the AFC West, the Raiders and Broncos are first and second respectively, with the same record of 6-2. The winner Sunday will take control of the division as the second half of the season gets underway.

“This is a big game for us,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We’re already hyped for this game. This is a championship game. You can’t win the Super Bowl unless you win the AFC West, so this is the first step. We know what to expect – great receivers next week – so we’re going to be ready.”

Since 2000, the Broncos have won 21 of 32 games against the Raiders, but they split last year’s season series with each team winning on the road. Though the odds are currently in Denver’s favor as they are favored to win by two points, the game will pit strength against strength.

Through eight games Oakland ranks fifth in total offense, averaging 401.6 yards per game. Denver comes in a distant 27th with 326.4. Defensively the pendulum swings the other way, with the Broncos’ No. 3-overall defense (301.3 YPG) vastly outperforming Oakland’s (410.4 YPG). Only Cleveland has allowed more total yards this year than the Raiders. Still, Oakland controls their own destiny in the West, just like the Broncos.

“They’ve got a great team,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said about the Raiders. “We’ve got to go there and they just won. They’re a great team to go against and we’ve got to get back to work.”

The longstanding rivalry between the two teams had lost much of its luster during the Peyton Manning era, as the Broncos rattled off seven wins in a row under Manning (and eight overall), but a split in the season series last year (losing with Brock Osweiler under center) has the rivalry rejuvenated. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Oakland’s turnaround has come under former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, now the head man in Oakland. That doesn’t mean the Broncos need added motivation, though.

“I just tell guys to be themselves,” defensive captain DeMarcus Ware said about what needs to happen during the Oakland game. “Sometimes you don’t need that extra motivation when you know what is at stake. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. This team right now is in the way. They are a great team and have been playing really well the whole season. To be a great team you have to be able to win on the road, so this is that big challenge for us this week.”

Luckily the Broncos still excel even when they are not at Denver. They won in Oakland last year and this year they have an away record of 2-1. In even better news for the Broncos, home field advantage seems to have less of an effect on the Raiders this year, as their home record is currently 1-2.

“It’s a big game,” said defensive end Derek Wolfe. “You look forward to big games. You look forward to every game, but you don’t look forward to those games that don’t anything. This means a lot. It’s a playoff game basically. It’s going to be fun.”

With the same record, stats that pit strength against strength, a close game prediction and a spot atop the AFC West on the line, this Broncos-Raiders matchup is easily the biggest game of the season to date.