Oakland Raiders (12-3 SU, 10-5 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (8-7 SU, 8-7 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday January 1st, 4:25 PM EST
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OAK +1.5 / DEN -1.5
Over/Under Total: 41
The Oakland Raiders travel east to Denver for a Sunday afternoon battle with the Broncos to close out their respective regular seasons. The Raiders have won the last two games between the teams after having lost the previous eight in a row, and while the Broncos season is essentially already over with them having been eliminated from postseason contention last week, Oakland still has plenty of playoff positioning to play for.
Going into Sunday the Raiders currently sit as the 2nd seed in the AFC and are a game behind New England for the top spot. To get the 1st seed Oakland would need the Patriots to lose and then they in turn would also have to beat Denver, a situation they will have a clear picture on as New England plays Miami in the first set of games at 1 PM. Unfortunately for the Raiders there are a couple of factors working against their favor in hopes of the Patriots losing, the first of which is that Miami has nothing to play for as they are already locked into the 5th or more likely 6th seed and are expected to rest starters in hopes of not losing another important cog in their system with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill currently inactive due to injury. Another mitigating factor is that last season the Patriots lost their last two games of the season, which cost them dearly in the playoffs as they blew home field advantage and eventually lost in Denver in the AFC Championship game, and have already inferred that Tom Brady will be starting and plans on playing a majority if not all of the game. To maintain their hold on the 2nd seed and an AFC West division title the Raiders either need to win Sunday or in case they lose, would need the Chiefs to also fall to the Chargers. If both the Raiders lose and the Chiefs win, Oakland would drop all the way to the 5th seed.
In just getting to the playoffs the Raiders managed to end what was the second longest current postseason drought in the NFL as it had been fourteen years since their last appearance. While Oakland fans are obviously happy to see that streak come to an end and will likely continue to celebrate in the best way they know how, dressing in 80s metal costumes and/or fighting opposing fans in the stands, some luster was lost when their quarterback and leader Derek Carr was lost for 6-8 weeks with a broken fibula suffered against Detroit on Christmas Eve. With their MVP foreseeably gone for the playoffs, the team will now turn its hopes to Matt McGloin, who hasnít started a game since 2013 when he was 1-5 as starter. Since he has had more than 10 passing attempts in a game only twice, and in both his team eventually suffered losses of 20+ points.
McGloin will be one of three quarterbacks in the AFC Playoffs (along with Tom Savage of Houston & Matt Moore of Miami) that has zero postseason experience, and now has a golden opportunity to catapult himself up the historical chain of command of ginger gunslingers. Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgenson and Sammy Baugh are at the top of the list, followed in chronological order by the likes of Billy Joe Tolliver, Jason Garrett Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, Carson Palmer and his brother Jordan (the Frank Stallone of the Palmer family), Andy Dalton, and current Eagles rookie Carson Wentz. What McGloin hopes to avoid is being cast amongst the bottom rung of his fellow red rifles, such as the personality starved Cade McNown, the ruined by insane parenting Todd Marinovich or just guilty of being a first round bust Brandon Weeden.
With the inexperienced McGloin at quarterback the Raiders will likely rely heavily on their rushing attack led by running back Latavius Murray, who ranks 5th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12 along with having gone for over 1,000 yards of offense so far this season with 777 on the ground and 250 through the air. Murray had possibly the best game of his career the last time he went up against Denver, running for 114 yards and a career high three touchdowns when the teams met back in November. This was a stark contrast to his previous two matchups against the Broncos, when he ran for a combined 66 yards on 29 carries with no scores. While Murray is the clear leader of the ground game, two rookies have done well throughout the year in backing him up, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, with both averaging over 5 yards per carry on the season with 80 carries per. Having not only Murray but also two capable backups has helped Oakland to the 5th ranked running game in the NFL, while their opponent this week has seen the wheels come off their season as their ground game has only gotten worse with each passing week.
As the Denver running game has gone so has the offense, and since C.J. Anderson got hurt two months ago they have basically been stuck in neutral. Lead back Devontae Booker had just one touchdown and 257 yards over the last seven weeks while putting up a paltry 2.85 yards per carry, and of late the team as a whole has been even worse, scoring just 23 points over the past three weeks while being outgained on the ground by a combined 415 yards. The Broncos havenít had a lead since week 13 against Jacksonville and on the season as whole have outscored their opponents in the first quarter only one time.
The frustration with the offense boiled over internally after Denver lost to New England in week 14, with head coach Gary Kubiak needing to break up an altercation in the locker room that erupted between the teamsí defensive backs and offensive lineman after cornerback Aqib Talib took exception to tackle Russell Okung attempting to address the team after the loss. Talib could have been mad for many reasons, he seems to be a pretty angry guy in general, and may have not wanted to listed to Okung wax poetic after he has been an overpriced bust this season and part of a porous offensive line that has struggled mightily through the year. Whatever the reason, it didnít seem to have much of an effect on firing up the team as they laid an absolute egg on the following week on national TV in getting pummeled by the Chiefs in Arrowhead and as such were eliminated from postseason contention for the first time since 2010 and now face a long offseason with questions abound throughout the team, starting at top with the quarterback position.
Word out of Denver on Wednesday indicated that both second year Trevor Siemian and rookie 1st rounder Paxton Lynch are expected to see action at quarterback during Sundayís game against Oakland with Siemian slated to get the start. Trevor started out strong for Denver, but the struggles of the running game and offensive line have had affected his play as well and he hasnít looked quite the same in recent weeks, most notably in his last two games where he has completed only 50% of his passes and thrown zero touchdowns with two interceptions. His backup Lynch has started two games on the year, a 23-16 loss to Atlanta in week 5 and a 20-10 victory against Jacksonville in week 13. With two yutes in Siemian and Lynch already there and an expected lackluster draft class for quarterbacks, it is likely Denver will look to build a stronger signal calling roster through free agency or trade in the offseason.
The Broncos started the season 4-0 and were 6-2 at the midway point but have since faltered greatly with just one win in their last five games. While I donít have a whole lot of faith in Matt McGloin or his backup Connor Cook, I do believe that Oakland will continue to find success on the ground with Latavius Murray leading the way against the Broncos 29th ranked run defense. Other than that though, I do not expect to see much offense in this game and if wagering would lean toward the under, unless of course Miami somehow upsets New England, in which case I would take Oakland.
Mike Mís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Oakland +1.5 (if New England loses to Miami)
Mike Mís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Under 41
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