OAKLAND -- There was so little difference between the Raiders and the Denver Broncos last season that it took a tiebreaker to determine the AFC West champion.
Less than a year later, the Raiders are down on their luck and near the bottom of the standings at 3-9, their fans having little to root for except the possibility of the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
The Broncos are 9-3 and already have successfully defended their division title. And with the performance of offseason acquisition Peyton Manning, Denver could be on its way to meeting even the wildest of expectations.
Yin meets yang Thursday night at O.co Coliseum when the Raiders attempt to snap a five-game losing streak against the Broncos, winners of their past seven.
"That's the NFL," Raiders cornerback Michael Huff said recently. "You really don't know year to year what's going to happen."
Life is good in Denver, with the Broncos gearing their play toward the postseason and hoping to get a first-round bye.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have an unhappy fan base, an owner in Mark Davis growing increasingly unhappy with the product and a disappointing middle linebacker in Rolando McClain serving the second game of a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Even worse, the Raiders have been touched by tragedy.
Coach Dennis Allen will be on the sideline two days after losing his father Grady, who died at 66. Allen returned to the Bay Area on Wednesday morning and was on the field for practice.
Less than a month ago, Tyson Williams, the 4-year-old son of Raiders defensive-line coach Terrell Williams, died of a sudden illness at Children's Hospital in Oakland.
"It's been a tough year for our staff as far as going through adversity," linebackers coach Johnny Holland said.
There were plenty of clues as to where the two teams were headed Sept. 30, when the Broncos blew out the Raiders 37-6 in Denver.
Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and Willis McGahee rushed for 112 of Denver's 165 yards on the ground as the Raiders surrendered 503 yards on defense.
The Broncos sacked Carson Palmer three times and shut down running back Darren McFadden, who had a history of playing well against Denver.
McFadden participated fully in practice Wednesday and is listed as probable to face Denver after missing four games because of a high right-ankle sprain. Backup running back Mike Goodson is probable as well, and while defensive tackle Richard Seymour will miss his fifth consecutive game because of a hamstring strain, the Raiders are as healthy as they have been in weeks.
Any chance the Raiders have of an upset probably would include success running the ball and keeping the ball away from Manning as much as possible.
During McFadden's absence, the Raiders' run-blocking has improved, with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp crediting improved play by center Stefen Wisniewski and the return of right tackle Khalif Barnes.
"We were kind of working through a lot of things when (McFadden) was healthy in the new scheme, but now with as many games as we have underneath our belt up front, getting him back will be a big bonus for us," Palmer said.
On defense, coordinator Jason Tarver conceded facing Manning will be just as tall an order on normal rest as it is with two days of practice.
"You're never really ready to play Peyton Manning," he said. "It's a matter of getting on the same page and having enough coverage looks to hopefully slow down his progression, and challenging guys in coverage."
Denver (9-3) at Raiders (3-9), 5:20 p.m. KGO, NFL Network