As crazy as it sounds, the Oakland Raiders still have an opportunity to reach the postseason. But first, it all starts with defeating their archrival, the Denver Broncos.
If the Raiders (7-8) can win on Sunday, they will still need a lot of help. First, they need both the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers to lose. Finally, they need the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It is a lot to ask for, but considering everything the Raiders have been through this season, it is amazing they're in this position. From the Antonio Brown saga during training camp, to not playing a single home game for almost two months, Oakland has had a stressful 2019 season on and off the field. That isn't even mentioning the impending move to Las Vegas and saying goodbye to fans in the Bay Area.
As for the Broncos (6-9), they've played much better since their Week 10 bye. The team is 3-3 in their last six games, including a huge road win over Houston, the AFC South champions.
Part of Denver’s improved play can be attributed to inserting rookie quarterback Drew Lock in as the starter. The Broncos are 3-1 with Lock running the offense, his only loss coming on the road against AFC West champ Kansas City.
This will, of course, be the second meeting between these division rivals. Their first came all the way back in Week 1 when Oakland defeated Denver 24-16 on “Monday Night Football.” The Raiders lead the all-time series 64-52-2.
Oakland at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Broncos -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Derek Carr
There's a lot of talk about the Raiders potentially moving on from Carr after this season. But the quarterback will have at least one last opponent to prove he deserves to be with the team as the franchise makes it move to Las Vegas next year.
Carr's numbers may not jump off of the page, but he’s eighth in the NFL in passer rating with 3,663 yards, 20 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He’s also second in the league in completion rate at 71.1 percent, which is a career-best mark for him.
In last week’s 24-17 win against the Chargers, Carr finished 26-of-30 for 291 yards and a touchdown and he ran for another score. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games and has just two games with no TD passes.
However, Carr’s steady play hasn’t ceased speculation surrounding his future with the Raiders. The team has two first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft so Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, or Utah State’s Jordan Love could be a potential target if the goal is to find the next franchise quarterback.
Carr could change the team’s thinking and fans’ perception if he’s able to lead Oakland to a win on Sunday and gets a chance to do it again next weekend in the Wild Card Round.
2. Phillip Lindsay
With one game left in the season, Lindsay will have an opportunity to crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive season. He is just 42 yards shy, which would make him the first Broncos player to achieve the feat since Clinton Portis did so back in 2003.
Lindsay may have difficulty finding running room on Sunday. Oakland is tied for eighth in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 100 yards per game.
In the first meeting, Lindsay managed just 43 yards on 11 carries. Last week, the Raiders held the Chargers to a total of 19 yards on 16 attempts. Oakland has surrendered more than 100 yards on the ground just once in its last five games.
3. Raiders’ defense
After giving up an average of 34 points per game during their four-game losing streak, Oakland’s defense certainly turned things around against the Chargers last week.
Los Angeles finished with 284 total yards (19 rushing) while Philip Rivers was sacked three times. The Raiders will need to maintain that level of play against Lock, who has been solid in the first four starts of his NFL career.
In going 3-1 as the starter, Lock has thrown for 843 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions while completing 65 percent of his attempts. Getting to the quarterback has been an issue for Oakland’s defense with 30 sacks on the season (26th in NFL), but that could be a key on Sunday. Consistent pressure may force the young quarterback into making a mistake.
It is difficult to know which Raiders team will show up on Sunday. Prior to their win against the Chargers last Sunday, Oakland lost four consecutive games, three of them by 21 or more points.
Carr had his best game in several weeks against the Chargers, but he will be challenged against a Denver defense that ranks 10th in the league in both points (20.3) and yards (327.7) allowed per game.
This game as with most between the Raiders and Broncos should be close. The difference may come down to the veteran Carr at quarterback for Oakland compared to the rookie Lock for Denver.
Prediction: Raiders 23, Broncos 20
— 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.