Neither the Oakland Raiders nor the Denver Broncos are going to the playoffs, so the focus of their game on Monday night might be the stadium.
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was built specifically for the Raiders in the mid-1960s, but Monday night’s game against the Broncos might be the Raiders’ last game there.
Owner Mark Davis is moving the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020, and since the city of Oakland recently sued his team and the rest of the NFL over the move, he is looking for another venue for his team next season.
“I’ve spent five years playing in the stadium and we have people talking trash about it, but I love it,” said quarterback Derek Carr of the only home stadium he has known as a pro. “It’s ours. It has been fun, and the fact that it could be the last (game) is crazy. When that time comes, we’ll enjoy it.”
Head coach Jon Gruden routinely talks with the fans in the “Black Hole” behind the south end zone before games and after Oakland victories, which have been rare in this 3-11 season.
“I get emotional about it,” Gruden told reporters this week. “Hopefully, we get it all resolved to where we can continue to play here (next season). … It’s going to be a great atmosphere, Monday night, Christmas Eve, Denver coming to town. I get excited thinking about it
“It’s a real football stadium. It’s dirt, grass. It’s got tradition. It’s where some of the best games in the history of football have been played. It’s where some of the best players in the history of the world played football games at. There are a lot of (great) things that happened in that stadium.”
Opposing teams get an earful from the rabid Oakland fans, and that hasn’t changed much in this lame-duck season.
“It’s going to be live out there,” Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby said this week. “The fans are going to be into it. They’re always into it, especially when they play us. It being Monday night, last game there, I’m sure it’s going to be like a playoff game.”
The Raiders’ offense is centered on quarterback Derek Carr, who has passed for 3,697 yards and 19 touchdowns and has not thrown an interception in the last nine games.
The Raiders’ young and injury-plagued offensive line might have trouble protecting him. Carr has been sacked a career-high 47 times this season, and Denver’s pass-rushing duo of Von Miller (14.5 sacks) and Bradley Chubb (12.0 sacks) might make things difficult for him.
Oakland averages only 99.1 yards rushing per game and has missed injured Marshawn Lynch for most of the season.
That will make it difficult to take advantage of a Denver defense that ranks 20th in the NFL in rushing defense (120.2 yards per game) and yards per carry (4.6).
Denver will counter with a pretty good running game led by rookie running back Phillip Lindsay, who is nine yards short of 1,000 yards for the season.
This week he became the first undrafted offensive rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl.
“At one point, I was just trying to make the team. I was hoping to do some (gunner) reps, some kick return and hopefully catch some balls at punt return,” Lindsay said. “When they gave me the news that I was going to the Pro Bowl, it was just a real emotional moment.”
The numbers for Broncos quarterback Case Keenum (15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions) are not great, and things have been more difficult for him since wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders went down with a torn Achilles tendon two weeks ago.
Denver (6-8) was eliminated from the postseason with a loss at home to Cleveland last week. The only thing the Broncos can hope for now is not to finish with a losing record in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1970s.
“We want to win. These next two games are important for us to finish the right way,” head coach Vance Joseph said this week. “That part is very important to me. It’s about winning. That’s what it’s about.”
It might be important to Joseph, whose job is said to be in jeopardy.