Raiders Preview: Derek Carr and Co. Aim For .500 In Season Finale Against Broncos
Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs
Sean M. Haffey-Getty Images

Since making the Super Bowl in 2002, the Las Vegas Raiders (previously in Oakland) have had just one winning season out of the 18 since. On Sunday, they’ll aim to reach the .500 mark for just the third time despite having no chance to advance into the postseason.

So what can we expect from the Raiders? Well, this clearly isn’t a team worried about their draft pick, as you can bet that quarterback Derek Carr and head coach Jon Gruden both care deeply about improving on last season’s record as a sign of some sort of hope. (And for what it’s worth, the worst they could do is fall from the No. 16 pick to the No. 17 pick if they win and the Arizona Cardinals lose, whereas a loss could theoretically vault them only as high as No. 15).

On tap for the Raiders is a second game against the Denver Broncos, the team that found themselves on the wrong side of the best day the Raiders have had all year. The Raiders won that game 37-12 in Week 10 at home behind 203 rushing yards, four Drew Lock interceptions and a Daesean Hamilton fumble.

Five Observations

1) Coming into this one, the Broncos are 5-10, having lost four of their last five with a -61 point differential over that stretch. While it might seem like they have little to play for, I’m guessing Lock might be playing for his job given the disaster of a season he has had (14 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 57% completion percentage).

2) One interesting matchup to watch will be the Raider offense and the Bronco defense inside the red zone. On the season, the Broncos have allowed the lowest percentage of touchdowns (47.46%), while Las Vegas is 25th on offense, converting just 54.39% of red-zone trips into touchdowns. There has been some chatter this week among beat writers about using Marcus Mariota in the red zone to mix things up, so I’ll be curious to see if that materializes.

3) Since rushing for 203 yards against Denver in Mid-November, the Raider rushing attack has all but disappeared. They’ve gone over the 100-yard mark just twice in the six games since, with one being their 104 yards against Miami last week, the other thanks to Mariota’s 88 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers (running backs in that game combined for just 90 yards). Can they get things back on track against the league’s No. 26 run defense?

4) With essentially just pride on the line for the Raiders as a team, Carr is within reach of some pretty significant career highs himself. If he were to throw for 323 yards, he would set a new career-high in passing yards — passing last year’s mark of 4,054. He’s also on pace to set career bests in both passer rating and QBR, and with three touchdowns he would tie for the second-most touchdowns in his career.

5) Speaking of milestones… Josh Jacobs is just 24 yards short of 1,000 for the season (and 175 away from his total from last season), while Nelson Agholor is 161 yards short of getting to 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He’s also one touchdown away from setting a new personal best in that category as well. But the big one to watch is Darren Waller, who is seven catches away from breaking Tim Brown’s single-season franchise record of 104 set in 1997 (he’s also 66 yards away from a new personal best in receiving yards).

Two Predictions

1) At some point the Raiders have to force-feed Henry Ruggs III just to try and turn the narrative on him so far this season, right? With how well Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Claypool and others have played, the Raiders will at some point need to justify choosing Ruggs over everyone else. In a game that is essentially meaningless, why not end the year on a high note you can point to all off-season to convince people you made the right move?

Prediction: I think Ruggs sets a season-high with at least six targets on Sunday. Give me 5 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

2) Week 17 is a disaster to bet on given that you have no clue about which teams care and which don’t. That said, I’m pretty confident the Raiders do care and so I like them in this one. I think the defense made strides last week except for a couple of individual breakdowns and given how bad Lock is, I think that momentum continues.

Raiders 31, Broncos 17