By Dave Thomas
Despite a 12-3 record and currently holding first place in the AFC West, the Raiders will head to Denver in week 17 with some question marks. Most notably, can backup QB Matt McGloin lead the team to victory in Denver, along with a run in the playoffs?
McGloin is now the man under center, this after MVP candidate and starting QB Derek Carr broke his right fibula in Oakland’s 33-25 win over Indianapolis in week 16. Although the team would love to rest its starters during the final week of the season, the Raiders have too much to play for and must be ready for Denver.
With Kansas City hot on its tail (11-4), Oakland needs to either win in Denver against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (8-7) or hope for a Kansas City loss in San Diego. One or both will secure the AFC West title for an Oakland team that is going to the playoffs either way for the first time in more than a decade (2002 season).
Denver On Offense (8-7)
Oakland meets a Denver team that is sitting home this postseason, this after capturing the Super Bowl last February with a win over Carolina.
For the Broncos, the 2016 season has been anything but super. Despite still having a stellar defense (ranked second overall in the league), the Broncos have had trouble scoring points for much of the season.
With future Hall-of-Fame player Peyton Manning having retired in the off-season, the Broncos looked like they were going to go with journeyman Mark Sanchez under center coming into the season. As it turns out, Sanchez was cut, and Trevor Siemian was named the starter.
Denver On Defense (8-7)
Wen it comes to defense, this is the brand Denver has built its success around in recent years.
Despite losing some players to free agency and injury, the Broncos still have a formidable defense. That said, even a vaunted defense can only do so much, especially if it is being placed on the field time and time again because of minimal success offensively.
While Von Miller and Co. have certainly been impressive at times this season, the lack of a potent offensive punch, especially on the ground, has proven difficult to overcome.
Players To Watch
Siemian has thrown for 3,195 yards (16 touchdowns, nine INTs). In Denver’s 33-10 playoff-eliminating loss Sunday in Kansas City, Siemian looked lost at times. With another youngster, Paxton Lynch, backing him up, it’s possible Denver might give Lynch the start in the season finale. Denver’s quarterback situation is worth watching come Sunday.
Additionally, part of Denver’s offensive issues have revolved around the lack of a steady running game. To date, Devontae Booker leads the way with 555 yards rushing (three touchdowns). Denver will also look to get Justin Forsett involved in Sunday’s matchup.
Through the air, Denver comes into the final game of the season with a pair of 1,000-yard options in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (1,036 yards receiving, five scores) and Emmanuel Sanders (1,032 yards receiving, five TD’s), respectively. Look for those two to have an impact in week 17.
With a relative newcomer under center for the Raiders in McGloin, expect Denver and defensive coach Wade Phillips to throw everything, but the kitchen sink at the Penn State product. Oakland will also have to deal with one of the noisier NFL environments, thereby making it more challenging for a young signal caller to operate.
As for the all-time series between these two bitter rivals, Oakland holds a 62-50-2 advantage, having added to that earlier this season with a 30-20 win at home.