The Las Vegas Raiders are alive in the AFC playoff picture for another week.
We know the drill. If they beat the Denver Broncos at home on Sunday (kickoff is 1:25 p.m. PT), they will improved to 8-7 and still have a chance to make the postseason for the first time in five years. If the Broncos upset the Raiders, the season is essentially over.
Let’s look at the Raiders’ keys to victory Sunday:
The Raiders have received another critical break. They will play against a backup quarterback for the second straight week. They faced Nick Mullens, who was just promoted from the practice squad because of a COVID-19 outbreak, last week against the Cleveland Browns. Now, the Raiders will play against Denver backup Drew Lock on Sunday with starter Teddy Bridgewater in the NFL’s concussion protocol. That is a huge advantage for the Raiders in a must-win game. Mullens had some moments against Las Vegas defense and it can’t let Lock have his day in the sun. Getting knocked out of playoff contention against a weak backup would be inexcusable.
#Raiders had 21 sacks in the first 8 games of the season, tied for 5th most. They have 8 sacks in the last 6 games, tied for 4th fewest— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) December 21, 2021
Don’t let Denver run the ball:
Like the Browns did, the Broncos will probably try to run the ball often with Lock running the offense — and the Broncos have a solid run attack, they are averaging 123 yards a game on the ground. Rookie Javonte Williams has 815 rushing yards and is averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Veteran Melvin Gordon has 769 yards and is averaging 4.4 yards a tote. Because the Raiders jumped out to a big lead, Bridgewater threw 49 times in October when Las Vegas won 34-24 in interim coach Rich Bisaccia’s first game. Williams had 53 yards on 11 carries and Gordon had 50 yards on 10 carries. If the Broncos are going to stay in this game offensively, it will be because they set the tone on the ground.
Javonte Williams is a tank pic.twitter.com/O00oViq5q5— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 21, 2021
Be careful with the Denver defense:
The Raiders may have beat Cleveland in Week 15 but their offense isn’t out of the woods. They scored 16 points and they have now scored 16 or less points in eight of their 14 games, which is tied for the most in the NFL. Plus, Denver’s defense is solid. It has talent on all three levels. So, the Raiders need to continue to try to be aggressive on offense. Even with Lock running Denver’s offense, 16 points may not be enough for the Raiders to win this game.
Carr needs to spread the ball around:
This passing offense is best when quarterback Derek Carr can get tight end Darren Waller (when healthy) and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow involved. That happens at times against Cleveland, especially the last drive and Carr hooked up with receiver Zay Jones and tight end Foster Moreau on big plays to set up Daniel Carlson’s game-winning field goal. That trend has to continue in this game.
Hold onto the ball:
The Raiders fumbled five times against the Browns and lost just one of them. Las Vegas must be more careful with the ball. Their margin for error is small because the offense has been struggling. The Raiders have lost to lesser teams before this season when they can’t secure the ball. It can’t be a problem in this game.