The NFL’s “International Series” of regular-season games has been an important initiative in spreading the NFL’s popularity beyond North America. This year, the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers will partake in the annual event at Wembley Stadium in London, England — but while the game itself might increase the popularity of football across the pond, it’s tough to suggest the teams involved will get anybody fired up.
Simply put, there’s just not much to get excited about in the Broncos and 49ers. Denver is coming off arguably the most embarrassing loss of the 2010 season — Oakland set a franchise scoring record in a 59-14 whitewash — while the 49ers just dropped a contest to the previously-winless Carolina Panthers.
Denver’s 45-point loss to the Raiders was an absolutely stunning result. The game was a thrashing from beginning to end, as Oakland scored 38 points in the first 22 minutes and never looked back. The 59 points allowed represented a low moment for the Denver franchise, as the Broncos had only allowed 59 points in a contest just once prior to this: the 1963 NFL season opener, which Denver lost to Kansas City 59-7.
Speaking of stunning results, there was another one on Sunday as well — the Panthers finally got a win! Thanks to the inspired play of QB Matt Moore and rookie WR David Gettis, the Panthers earned their first victory of the year over the sad-sack 49ers, who fell further out of contention in the NFC West. San Fran also lost QB Alex Smith to a shoulder injury which means David Carr will likely be behind center for the foreseeable future. Anti-Smith folk will see this as a positive development, but is it? Carr only went 5-of-13 passing in relief of Smith and threw a costly interception, finishing with a 23.6 passer rating. He’ll probably get a stiff test at Wembley against a Broncos defense that was embarrassed last Sunday — you can almost guarantee Denver will be looking to make amends.
Seattle Seahawks (4-2) at Oakland Raiders (3-4)
The Raiders come into this one sky-high after scoring 59 points against Denver last weekend. Following the win, several Raiders mentioned to reporters that this could be the turning point of their season — wiping out a hated divisional rival (in Denver, no less) is exactly the kind of spark needed to make a serious run at the AFC West crown.
That said, Oakland has a difficult matchup this weekend against a steadily-improving Seahawks team. After steadily remaking the team throughout the year (Seattle has pulled 13 trades in 2010), Pete Carroll now has the type of roster makeup he was looking for — young, energetic players that play with a high level of intensity. RBs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are playing extremely well together (they paced Seattle to a season-high 144 rushing yards against Arizona) and over the last two weeks, WR Mike Williams has broke through as a big-game player. Williams has caught 21 passes for 210 yards and his season total after six games is 32 receptions for 348 yards, already exceeding his single-season high of 29 catches as a rookie in 2005. He’s also emerged as QB Matt Hasselbeck’s go-to target in all circumstances, something the Raiders will have to be wary of on Sunday.