Now the season ends the way it started on Sunday, this time in Las Vegas.
A lot has changed for the Raiders since that Week 1 game in Denver. Las Vegas has a new quarterback and head coach. How are fans feeling about the state of the team and the season heading into Week 18?
The two rivals will play for second place in the AFC West and head into the offseason on a winning note.
DraftKings Sportsbook doesn’t like Denver’s chances on Sunday. The Broncos are a slight underdog to the Raiders. The total sits at 38. As has been the case most of the season, the under is the safe play on Sunday.
To preview Sunday’s game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Raiders heading into Sunday’s game with Matt Holder from Silver & Black Pride. For those interested, here are my answers to Matt’s 5 questions about the Broncos.
MHR: How is Raider Nation feeling about the state of the team and the season heading into the final game?
Matt: This year has been pretty disappointing overall as Raiders and Broncos fans now share something in common; Josh McDaniels was fired as head coach roughly a year and a half into the gig!
Overall, the team is in a big state of flux without a permanent head coach and general manager at the moment, and questions about the future of the team’s quarterback situation. Aidan O’Connell has been pretty hot and cold since taking over as the starter so Raider Nation is kind of split on what to do under center moving forward. It feels like the beginning stages of the Derek Carr debates all over again!
One thing is for certain, fans are tired of losing and have been for a while. It’s hard to gauge how confident people are with the direction of the team given how much is in the air and how inconsistent the Raiders have been this season. In our weekly poll asking about the confidence level of the direction of the franchise, I think it’s flipped back and forth between being confident and unconfident every week.
This offseason will be an interesting one for sure, again ...
MHR: What will Mark Davis do at head coach? Who do you want the Raiders to hire?
Matt: Davis has been a bit of a wild card in the past and has started to show signs that he’s his father’s son, meaning he will make impulsive decisions. So far, Jon Gruden is the only head coach he’s really stood by since taking over control of the franchise in 2011.
Unless a big fish like Jim Harbaugh — and maybe even Gruden as that rumor has picked up some steam lately — becomes a legitimate candidate, Antonio Pierce has a good chance to keep the job. Pierce’s win in Kansas City on Christmas Day bought him some credibility and the players love him.
My choice would be Ben Johnson because I’m a fan of his offensive creativity and think he has a good mentor for the leadership/motivation aspect of the job in Dan Campbell. But if I were to bet on it, I’d put my money on Pierce and would be satisfied if he’s retained or gets a full year to prove himself.
MHR: How do the Raiders get the win on Sunday? Is this a game the team and fans want to win?
Matt: Las Vegas wins if O’Connell takes what Denver’s defense is giving him and doesn’t try to force the ball down the field. He gets in trouble when he does the latter because he doesn’t have the arm strength to force tight window throws and is much better when lulling the defense to sleep and taking measured shots. Also, the Raiders are at their best when their running game and defense are leading the way.
The team definitely wants to win because any ‘W’ increases Pierce’s chances to keep the job. Within the fan base, it depends on who you ask. Some want to see them be competitive and beat a division rival while others are more concerned about securing a top 10 draft pick.
MHR: What is your best bet for Sunday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? And what do you think of the current spread?
Matt: I like the Raiders to score first and win at +170. While the Broncos won last week, it was pretty clear a few weeks ago when the Raiders hung 63 points on the Chargers that Los Angeles had already packed it in for the year. Also, I think Las Vegas has more to play for with what was mentioned above about Pierce’s job security. Meanwhile, Sean Payton is safe and Denver will be starting backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who Las Vegas’ defense should know well. So, I also think the Raiders will cover the 2.5-point spread.
MHR: What are your expectations and predictions for Sunday’s game?
Matt: My expectations are pretty low and, in a way, I’m kind of treating this week as a preseason game. While I do think the Raiders will win, I’m more concerned about how the young players on the roster look and hope they get more reps to help build some momentum heading into the offseason. I’ll say 21-10 Silver and Black for my prediction.