Monday night's game between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders won't be unique just because it is on Christmas Eve. It will be special because it could be the Raiders' final game played at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum.
Raiders owner Mark Davis is moving the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020. Since the city of Oakland recently sued the Raiders and the rest of the NFL over the move to Las Vegas, Davis is looking for another venue for the team in 2019.
Oakland and Denver do have one thing in common — both teams are putting the final touches on disappointing seasons. For the Raiders (3-11) and Broncos (6-8), most of the focus has shifted towards next season and the 2019 NFL Draft. But there's still pride on the line (and maybe a head coach's job), especially considering the first meeting between these two teams came down to a last-second field goal.
Back in Week 2, Denver overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit to beat Oakland 20-19. The Broncos scored the final 13 points of the game with Brandon McManus kicking a 36-yard field with six seconds left to complete the comeback. It also should be pointed out that several of the key participants in that game won't be a part of the return matchup whether it be due to injury (Marshawn Lynch, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Harris Jr.) or trade (Amari Cooper, Demaryius Thomas).
Denver at Oakland
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 24 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Denver -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Derek Carr
Despite the Raiders' record, Carr has played some of the best football of his career the last two months. He has not thrown an interception in his last nine games, a span of 292 pass attempts. That's already a franchise record and the current longest active streak in the NFL since Aaron Rodgers' record run came to an end at 402 following an interception in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Chicago.
For the season, Carr has 3,697 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those numbers may not seem all that impressive, but Carr hasn't gotten a lot of help from either his pass catchers or his offensive line this season. He's been sacked 47 times through 14 games, that's the third-highest total in the league, yet he's seventh in the league with a completion rate of 68.4 percent, which is a career-best mark for him.
Denver can still get after the quarterback (42 sacks), but the Broncos have been susceptible through the air. They rank 25th in the league at 257.9 passing yards per game allowed and just put top cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on injured reserve. If Oakland's line can give Carr enough time to throw, he should be able to have some success on Monday night.
2. Phillip Lindsay
Lindsay has not only been among the best rookies in the NFL this season but one of the biggest surprises in the entire league. After going undrafted in April, Lindsay has rushed for 991 yards and nine touchdowns, becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl.
"To be able to have 100 yards in a game was great," Lindsay said earlier this week. "To get a touchdown, to be able to play [at Broncos Stadium at Mile High], that’s the stuff right there that I dreamt about. The Pro Bowl is something that you think like five years down the line, three years down the line. It’s an honor to get it."
Oakland's rushing defense is dead last in the league at 146.4 yards per game. The Raiders already know what to expect when facing Lindsay. He posted his first career 100-yard game against them back in Week 2, going for 107 on just 14 carries (7.6 ypc) with a long of 53 yards.
Just like the fans watching and attending Monday night's game, it figures to be emotional for Oakland's players as well as the coaches given the uncertain status about where they will be playing in 2019.
Head coach Jon Gruden is in his second stint with the Raiders after first coming to the franchise back in 1998. So Gruden has been through the ups and downs with the Raiders.
"It’s going to be a great atmosphere Monday night, on Christmas Eve, the Denver Broncos coming to town," Gruden said. "I get excited thinking about it. Just raging in the Black Hole. Rocking and raging down there after the Steelers game, after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of the great Raiders teams. I get excited, and I get emotional about it. Hopefully, we get it all resolved where we can continue to play here."
Although this game doesn't have any playoff implications, the Raiders would love nothing more than to go out with a victory in possibly their last game in Oakland. If the Raiders can contain Phillip Lindsay and the Broncos' running game, they will have a chance for the upset.
Denver quarterback Case Keenum, like the Broncos as a team, has been inconsistent this season. He's on pace to set a new career high for passing yards (3,396 entering Monday night), but he has just 15 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.
While this game will likely be close as it reaches the fourth quarter, look for the Raiders, with a rejuvenated Carr leading the way, give the fans an early Christmas present with one last victory in the Black Hole.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Broncos 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.