Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a big game vs. the Raiders in September. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The only question about Sunday’s Raiders-Broncos matchup is: How many?
How many points will the Broncos score? How many touchdown passes will Peyton Manning throw? And how many days will Raiders fans have to wait to learn the fate of head coach Dennis Allen after Oakland finishes a second straight season at 4-12?
Sunday’s regular-season finale, after all, appears to be a classic mismatch.
The Raiders are going nowhere but into an offseason with, undoubtedly, many more roster moves and uncertainty in the coaching staff. Allen, finishing out the second year of his four-year contract, was thought earlier this season to be guaranteed a third season when his team started out 3-4. The turnaround project under general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen appeared to be making progress and Allen – who had been given little to work with – was making the best of a bad situation. But as the second half of the season unfolded, the Raiders slid downhill. Now it will be up to McKenzie and owner Mark Davis to decide if Allen gets a third year.
And this Sunday, Allen has decided to start Terrelle Pryor at quarterback one last time to get a better sense of his abilities heading into the offseason.
The 12-3 Broncos, meanwhile, have already locked up their trip to the postseason, but have something to play for at O.co Coliseum Sunday. With a victory, the AFC West champions can lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Plus, Manning – who set the NFL season record last week by throwing his 51st touchdown pass – is 266 yards away from breaking the league passing record of 5,476 yards in a season set by the Saints’ Drew Brees. He’ll be facing a Raiders pass defense that ranks 26th in the league, allowing 250 yards per game through the air – but that has played particularly bad in recent weeks. As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted, in the Raiders’ current five-game losing streak, opposing quarterbacks have completed 70.5 percent of their passes for 10 TDs and just two interceptions and a passer rating of 112.0.
In the first meeting of the teams in September, Manning completed 32 of 37 throws for 374 yards and three TDs.
No matter how well Pryor plays at quarterback, he’s most likely going to be playing from behind, and the Broncos defense will be able to come after him on every play. Sunday’s game may devolve into a no-win proposition for both the Raiders and Pryor.
The Raiders defense will have to get some stops on the Broncos to keep the game close – and that’s a tall order.
“We’ve got to go out there and play,” Allen told the media this week. “It’s really going to come down to having a good plan, doing our job. When we’ve played them in the past, the thing that’s really hurt us the most is getting off the field on third down. That’s got to be a focus for us.”
Oddsmakers have made the Raiders 12-point underdogs.