The Oakland Raiders will have plenty to play for in their final game of the season. There’s the job security of coach Dennis Allen, the future of their two quarterbacks and the prospective employment of about another four dozen players on the roster.
Additionally, if the Raiders can beat the Denver Broncos they’d also throw a bit of a wrench into the postseason plans of their AFC West rivals.
The biggest storyline for the game from Oakland’s perspective will be Terrelle Pryor’s return to the starting lineup following a five-week absence. In many ways, it could be a make-or-break game for the former Ohio State star.
Here are some of the other things you need to know heading into Week 17.
A week after stumbling against San Diego to let the Chiefs back in the division title hunt, the Denver Broncos picked up a much-needed win against the Houston Texans then got some help from the Indianapolis Colts, who knocked off Kansas City.
That put the Broncos’ destiny back in their own hands. A win in the season finale at Oakland would give Denver the outright division title as well as lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Kansas City is headed to the postseason regardless of what happens against San Diego in the regular-season finale, but the Chiefs haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders as of late.
The Chargers are the hottest team in the AFC with three consecutive wins and will try to parlay their streak into a playoff berth. First they’ll have to knock off Kansas City, then Mike McCoy’s gang will need some help from a few other teams to get in the door.
Oakland? The only hope remaining is to upset the Broncos and get a fifth win that would show some tangible signs of progress in Allen’s second year.
Tuesday marked the first time in quite a while that the Raiders had their entire 53-man roster at practice. That doesn’t mean everyone is healthy, however.
Third-string running back Jeremy Stewart continues to be limited with knee and ankle injuries. Right guard Mike Brisiel was also limited due to a sore knee, while wide receiver Denarius Moore was cleared for full practice after being limited in recent weeks with a sore shoulder.
|AFC West standings|
|Kansas City Chiefs||11-4||1||406||278|
|San Diego Chargers||8-7||4||369||324|
Heck, even Darren McFadden managed to avoid getting out on the team’s weekly injury report.
What needs to improve
•Oakland’s pass rush got off to a good start against San Diego but tailed off as the game went along. That will be a recipe for disaster against the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning. One of the problems is that opponents are doing a much better job picking up the blitz when the Raiders are on defense. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has to do a better job of mixing things up more.
• There hasn’t been a sense of urgency on either side of the ball for some time now, and that’s a big reason why the team has had such a difficult time digging out of big holes. It hasn’t been a team-wide malaise, but it’s noticeable enough, especially when opposing teams take advantage of it. It’s too late to matter much this year, but playing with an attitude and purpose in the final game could set the tone for the offseason heading into 2014.
• With the Broncos losing Von Miller for the rest of the season, Denver’s defense won’t be as explosive. The Raiders need to counter that with a steady diet of crossing patterns to loosen up the front five balanced by a steady, persistent running game. It sounds simple enough at 4-11; it clearly hasn’t been as easy to do.
• The Raiders have gotten fairly solid play out of their special teams most of the season, although kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been as erratic as ever. Where Oakland has really struggled, though, has been with the return units. The Raiders haven’t scored on a special teams kickoff return or punt return all season and have been mostly mediocre all season. If they could get something going against Denver, it would take a lot of the heat off Pryor and the offense.