OAKLAND – The Raiders have one more home game left this season and, unless you've been technology free recently, you know Monday night's contest against Denver could be the last played in Oakland.
That's right, ever.
It's not a mortal lock, but it's probable now that the City of Oakland dropped a lawsuit on the Raiders and the NFL.
If Monday's in fact a swan song, the Raiders want to send their loyal, rabid fan base home with a smile. A rare win would be required against a Denver Broncos team that has fallen on hard times but still has some star power on both sides of the ball.
Here are four Raiders who much perform well (plus a bonus selection) to remain competitive with and ultimately beat the Broncos on Christmas Eve.
LT Kolton Miller
The Raiders first-round pick didn't have a great day against the Bengals. He gave up two sacks and struggled as a run blocker in that game, adding to unwelcome statistical totals that have him allowing the most sacks and total quarterback pressures in the NFL through 15 weeks.
Now he'll deal with fellow 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb, who lines up opposite left tackles and has 12.5 sacks on the season. That matchup seems problematic, though Chubb only had one hurry and zero sacks against Miller in Week 2. Miller will also have Kelechi Osemele next to him for the first time in a while, which should help on the interior.
The Raiders hope he can finish strong against quality competition and leave the season with some confidence. Routinely stopping Chubb would certainly provide that. Miller has made strides while battling through injury, even if the numbers aren't great.
"He's improved in one-on-one pass protection and he's improved in the running game," head coach Jon Gruden said. "He's handled a lot of audibles. He's played next to five different left guards. He's been mentally tough and physically tough. Those are the two qualities that I admire the most. He's battled through some legitimate injuries. He's seen Melvin Ingram, Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Von Miller. He's seen some great players, but he's been mentally tough and physically tough. He hasn't missed practice. He's in to football and has got a huge upside."
LB Tahir Whitehead
The Raiders use four linebackers in their defensive rotation, and Whitehead's the only one with at least two season's NFL experience. Whitehead's positive outlook and grinder's mentality has kept the position group progressing through the season, a role that's as important as his on-field product. Playing well on game day is what matters most, and Whitehead has improved significantly in that area over four of the past five weeks. He's in charged of making tackles just beyond the line of scrimmage to prevent average runs from becoming big plays.
While it'll take a village to slow upstart Denver running back Phillip Lindsay, Whitehead will lead the effort on the interior. He'll need to show up in pass coverage against Lindsay and Broncos tight ends, vital chores to slow an offense that has fallen on hard times. A big-time play from Whitehead – he has a few in recent weeks – could spurn the team on to victory in this important primetime game.
CB Rashaan Melvin
The veteran cornerback was signed in free agency to be the team's top cover man. He isn't a starter anymore, deferring to Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley. He still rotates in heavily, and will play more if he's got a hot hand or others cool during a game.
Monday may be a time where Melvin's needed regularly. Worley's been battling a should injury for weeks, and now he's missing practice because of it. Conley was in the concussion protocol all week and while he was limited, it's unclear how much work he actually got done. Both starters are considered questionable heading into this game, so Melvin will start if one can't go. Melvin could also have to fill in extensively if an injury acts up or prevents a player from producing well.
Melvin has experience and savvy, and could easily step in and make plays against a lackluster Broncos receiver corps.
WR Jordy Nelson
Derek Carr has sorely missed a steady hand in his receiver corps. Tight end Jared Cook has always been a quality option, but the actual wideouts have been inconsistent especially after Amari Cooper got traded and Brandon LaFell got hurt.
Nelson struggled some after suffering a bone bruise in his knee, but that ailment's in the rearview. His targets have skyrocketed recently with 25 targets coming his way in the last three weeks. He has taken 22 catches for 233 yards from the opportunities, proving the reliable outlet Carr needs at this stage. He may not be lightning quick at 33 and with recent knee issues, but he has steady hands and is comfortable performing under pressure.
Carr needs a quality second option behind Cook against the Broncos, who are down Chris Harris Jr. as the season winds down. A previously scary secondary has lost some bite, so Nelson can find windows to make plays in the red zone and on third down to keep the Raiders offense running.