With both teams eliminated from playoff content, this Sunday’s matchup between the visiting Denver Broncos and host Las Vegas Raiders is oft referred to as meaningless. After all, there’s no postseason berth at stake for either AFC West squad in the regular season finale inside Allegiant Stadium.
Yet, there’s plenty to play for. The Raiders made no bones about it this week and playoffs or not, there’s the matter of pride, improvement, game film, and oh, a seven-game win streak on the line for the Silver & Black.
“You only get 17 opportunities guaranteed and it’s a game we love to play, love the coach. I just can’t imagine going out on the field and not playing it to your fullest and coaching it to your fullest, whether we’re in our meetings getting ready right now, game planning,” Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said during his media session Tuesday. “We owe that to the players; the players owe the game to play hard. It never crosses my mind any team I’ve been a part of that we’re not going to play to our fullest.”
The rest of Las Vegas coaching staff is of the same mindset.
Interim head coach Antonio Pierce, who hopes to land the permanent gig after the offseason search, is of the “leave everything on the field” mantra. He expects his Raiders to go out there and put a complete effort against a division foe to close the 2023 campaign with a victory and get to 8-9 overall instead of 7-10 — draft position be damned. And with Pierce looking to be the man for Las Vegas, an impressive win puts another positive item on his on-field resume. An awful loss — at home, no less — would leave a nasty aftertaste in Davis’ mouth.
Thus, fight to the finish.
“Well, I know how we’re going to approach it; we’re going to finish,” Pierce began during his Wednesday press conference. “We’re going to play our best football. We’re going to be excited, we’re going to have passion, we’re going to have pride, we’re going to have poise, and we’ll let it hang out. We’re going to let it loose. We’re going to have fun and we’re going to play good football.”
Sunday’s finale would undoubtedly be more fun for the Raiders if they are victorious. It would extend their win streak over the Broncos to eight-straight games. Denver has never beaten the Las Vegas variant of the Silver & Black and that most definitely sticks in the team’s collective craw. Plus, the Broncos are currently ahead of the Raiders in the standings at 8-8 and sweeping Denver gives Las Vegas the nod if both teams finish 8-9. Again, draft position be damned.
Raiders players were unsurprisingly asked about the final game with no playoffs on the horizon. It’s a fair question. But the players know what’s in front of them; the questions that remain unanswered. And a solid closing statement puts valuable game film in the can for the next crop of decision makers to take into account this offseason. The tape very often doesn’t lie and getting that to pour through and dissect for someone building the roster is informed decision-making.
“Yeah, it’s hard. Obviously, it’s a goal,” Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell said when asked how he deals with not having the playoffs in front of the team. “You try to find throughout the season the balance of looking towards that goal but also staying in the present because if you don’t take care of business in the short term, in the long term it won’t matter. And so, I think for us, it’s easy because it’s one last game and we get to truly empty the tank. It’s the last time this team will be together and so we get to leave everything. We want to make this our stamp the last time we play together.”
Las Vegas’ offense, in particular, has been the lackluster group — far behind the defense and special teams units. Bo Hardegree’s offense scored over 20 points just two times in the eight games he’s had as the play caller (one of them a 63-point thrashing over the chargers that skews the numbers). Under his watch, the Raiders account for 179 total points scored in those eight games (slightly over a 22 point average) and if you take away the defensive scoring, the number for the offense dips to 151 (and the average drops to 18.8 points per game).
Having a scoreless stinker like the 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14 after a bye week and the most recent 23-20 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts highlight the lack of offensive punch from the Raiders.
“Well, I mean we owe it to them. They come and spend their hard-earned money to come and watch us, but that’s the plan every week is to go out there and put on a show for them,” said Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams when asked about putting on a show for fans in the season finale during his Wednesday media session. “We never intended to go out there and not light up the scoreboard or whatever it is on each side of the ball. So, we obviously have a little bit more initiative, it’s the last one and we know it’s the last one, which is not the way you want to end your regular season ever, but like I said it is what it is. That’s where we are right now, so we’ve just got to put as good of a product out there on film as we can and figure out the rest after.”
Las Vegas clearly has more to do and to close it out at home against a division foe provides the perfect backdrop to put up a solid closing argument and lasting impression. Especially with uncertainty ahead at the two prime decision making spot at head coach and general manger.
“Absolutely. I mean, we’re always chasing for perfection. And especially when you go into a game like this weekend against the Broncos, it’s a division game. You’re going against a very talented offense, a very good scheme,” Graham noted regarding what the team can still do. “You know they have a talented defense on the other side of the ball. There’s a bunch of challenges that are still right in front of our face for this weekend. I know those guys are going to be geared up to face those challenges and try to exceed expectations. I just think that’s just how they’re built; they’re going to come in here bouncing around and ready to go. Obviously, people are disappointed, it is what it is. You can get mad, but I always tell them, ‘Don’t get frustrated and be ready to go.’”
We’ll find out in short order this Sunday if the Raider are indeed ready to go.