OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-3) AT DENVER BRONCOS (8-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson.
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 61-49-2. The Raiders have won two in a row. In last meeting in Denver, Raiders won 15-12 as Khalil Mack had five sacks of Brock Osweiler — all of them in the second half. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 1, 1978, when the Broncos defeated the defending champion Raiders 20-17 to win their first AFC championship.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders, who have clinched a playoff berth, can secure the AFC West division and lock up a first-round bye with a win or with a loss by Kansas City. Oakland can earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a New England loss.
With Derek Carr lost to a broken leg, Matt McGloin will step in at quarterback. The Raiders will hope to succeed with the kind of game plan that was so successful in the first meeting, when they rushed 43 times for 218 yards.
Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will both see action for Denver. No matter who takes the snaps, though, the first task remains the same: Protect the quarterback. Denver’s offensive line didn’t allow any sacks last week, but it permitted plenty of pressure, forcing Siemian to throw before he wanted time and again. If the Broncos can’t keep Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin out of their passers’ faces, the offense will again struggle.
Denver’s struggling run defense must do a better job containing Latavius Murray and Oakland’s ground game; the Raiders are one of five teams to rush for at least 150 yards at Denver’s expense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Broncos OTs Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung vs. Raiders edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Mack and Irvin have combined for 18 of the Raiders’ 25 sacks; no other players on their roster have more than 2.5 sacks. Okung hasn’t allowed a sack since November and has finally looked comfortable after struggling at midseason, but Stephenson has consistently allowed pressure, with Dee Ford whipping around him to affect multiple Siemian throws last week.
–Raiders QB Matt McGloin vs. Broncos pass rush. Even with DeMarcus Ware sidelined, the Broncos will try to generate a pass rush that makes McGloin uncomfortable. Although McGloin has a low sack rate — one every 30.6 pass plays — he has 11 career interceptions and will throw some passes up for grabs. If the Broncos can generate enough pressure to force him into quick throws and poor decisions, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. could finally be in position to make plays they haven’t made often as opposing quarterbacks avoid throwing at them.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: QB Derek Carr (ankle), T Austin Howard (shoulder)
–Doubtful: S Karl Joseph (toe)
–Questionable: WR Amari Cooper (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (ankle), WR Andre Holmes (shoulder), DT Stacy McGee (groin), G Kelechi Osemele (ankle), RB Jalen Richard (shoulder), LB Perry Riley (hamstring), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring)
–Out: TE A.J. Derby (concussion), S T.J. Ward (concussion), LB DeMarcus Ware (back), CB Kayvon Webster (concussion), DE Derek Wolfe (neck)
–Questionable: LB Brandon Marshall (hamstring)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman. In the past two weeks, he finally began playing like the contributor the Broncos expected him to be when they selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. With more playing time because of concussions suffered by Virgil Green and A.J. Derby, Heuerman played 29 snaps last Sunday and was second on the Broncos with three receptions for 32 yards. With a 17.1-yard average on his seven receptions this year, Heuerman has been effective finding gaps in deep zone coverage.
FAST FACTS: The Raiders have clinched their first playoff berth since 2002. Raiders RB Latavius Murray ranks fifth in the NFL with 12 rushing TDs, the most by a Raider since 1990. He rushed for 114 yards and three TDs in the last meeting. … Oakland WR Amari Cooper ranks fourth in the AFC with 1,110 receiving yards. He is the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. … Raiders DE Khalil Mack has 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his past 10 games. He is the first Raider with 10 sacks in back-to-back seasons since Derrick Burgess in 2005-06. … Broncos QB Trevor Siemian passed for 283 yards and two TDs in the last meeting. Rookie QB Paxton Lynch passed for 223 yards and a score in his last home start. … Broncos RB Devontae Booker ranks fourth among NFL rookies with 555 rushing yards. … Denver WR Demaryius Thomas leads the team with 86 catches and 1,036 yards. He needs four catches to become the third player in NFL history with five consecutive seasons of 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and five TD catches.
PREDICTION: This game will be determined by the running game, and the Raiders have enough ground beef to keep the pressure off McGloin and secure that first-round bye.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-3) AT DENVER BRONCOS (8-7)