After a crushing defeat to divisional rivals Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day, the Denver Broncos are eliminated from playoff action ahead of a New Years Day matchup with the Oakland Raiders. After a miserable end to 2016 following a sensational Super Bowl victory, Denver will be looking to start 2017 on the right foot. Despite the fact there is nothing to play for, a game with the Oakland Raiders is never meaningless and Denver will be fired up to end the season on a high and play spoiler on the Raiders season.
The Broncos will be without some key starters after a trying season, TJ Ward, Derek Wolfe and AJ Derby ruled out and on injured reserve sit CJ Anderson, Andy Janovich, Vance Walker and Demarcus Ware. Demarcus has confirmed he will play on for one more season, so along with Wade Phillips is a key contract issue that needs to be resolved. Trevor Siemian will continue to start for Denver however he is likely to split time with rookie Paxton Lynch with an eye on next season and the future.
Three keys for Denver:
- Run the ball. With this the final game of the season and Denver having had no run game at all since CJ went down with an injury, it would be nice to see Devontae Booker and Justin Forsett get something going in front of the Mile High crowd and even produce over 100 yards rushing between them. It would certainly bode well for the future and could earn Forsett a contract for next season with a good performance, especially with changes almost certain to come on the o-line.
- Pressure the quarterback. Against the Chiefs Denver failed to pressure Alex Smith, and after spending so much time on the field throughout the season it was clear they were tired. However the one time they did get to Smith he threw an interception to rookie safety Justin Simmons. With Carr out with a potentially season ending injury Matt McGloin will be under centre and if Denver’s pass rush is successful McGloin could struggle.
- Big plays on offence. Trevor Siemian has very rarely thrown the long balls. If him and Paxton could produce some 20+ yard plays it would really get the crowd going and that is key if Denver are to win. The season is over, they may as well go and have some fun.
Three keys for Oakland:
- Don’t turn the ball over. Oakland have a terrific run game through Latavius Murray and some excellent defensive pieces, but with backup McGloin under centre the pressure will be on him to limit mistakes and manage the game. If he makes too many mistakes that could cost Oakland.
- Protect the quarterback. Denver have one of the best pass rushing groups in the NFL, and can often create havoc for opposing offences. With this in mind, Oakland’s o-line needs to do its best to protect McGloin and prevent Oakland from going backwards on the field. If McGloin gets injured the Raiders really are in trouble and any chance they had of a deep playoff run could be over.
- Run the ball. I’ve chosen this as a key for both sides, but for completely different reasons. For Oakland, they have a fantastic run game and with Carr out Latavius Murray could be the key to Oakland moving the chains and being successful in this game.
Prediction: Oakland 20-23 Denver