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Five Questions Heading Into The Oakland Raiders Week 17 Clash With The Denver Broncos


Linebacker Bruce Irvin

It's a pretty simple formula for the Oakland Raiders his weekend; win, and you win the division.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio likes to call games like Sunday's "t-shirt and hat games," and if the Silver and Black are able to take care of business against the Denver Broncos, not only will they get the t-shirt and hat, they'll also officially be crowned AFC West champions for the first time since 2002.

Kickoff in Denver is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. PT, but before the Raiders take the field, let's look at five questions we have heading into the regular season finale.

1. How does Matt McGloin respond to the moment?

Fair or not, all eyes will be on No. 14 when he takes the field Sunday afternoon as the Raiders starting quarterback.

The former Penn State Nittany Lion hasn't made a start for the Raiders since December 2013, but after Derek Carr went down with a broken fibula last weekend, he's the man who will now be tasked with leading the Raiders into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

McGloin is certainly entering a unique situation, there's no doubt about that, but quarterbacks coach Todd Downing doesn't believe that the fourth-year quarterback is going to be overwhelmed by anything on the field in the coming weeks.

"As far as the moment being too big for him, that's not going to be an issue," said Downing. "Matt is a highly-competitive guy, who's been in a lot of big games in college. He started [six] games as a rookie here. This moment is not going to be too big for him. He's going to enjoy it, and he's going to step up to the challenge."

And it'll be quite a challenge for McGloin Sunday afternoon, as he and the Raiders square off against a Broncos defense that is ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL.

2. Will McGloin's supporting cast show up in a big way?

McGloin and his performance against the Broncos will be a major storyline heading into Sunday's matchup with the Broncos, and understandably so.

However, while I'm also looking forward to seeing how No. 14 responds to his first start in just over three years, I'll also be keeping a close eye on which members of McGloin's supporting cast step up in a big way at Mile High Stadium.

The veteran signal-caller finds himself in a much different situation than the last time he was the Raiders starting quarterback, as he is now going to be protected by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, both in the backfield and out wide.

The last time the Raiders and Broncos squared off, the Silver and Black were able to run rampant for a season high 218 yards on the ground, and another big day on the ground would pay huge dividends once again Sunday afternoon.

McGloin also has the benefit of having a deep, quality wide receiving corps, so I'll be watching closely to see which players on his supporting staff rise to the occasion and help make life easier for No. 14.

3. How will the Raiders defense respond to facing two quarterbacks?

In another Week 17 wrinkle, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week that while Trevor Siemian will once again get the start at quarterback, rookie signal-caller Paxton Lynch will also be mixed in periodically as well.

The Broncos were eliminated from postseason play last weekend following their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, so it makes sense that Kubiak and his staff want to see what they have in the rookie from the University of Memphis.

While going into a game knowing that they'll be facing two quarterbacks is a bit unorthodox, defensive tackle Stacy McGee doesn't think it changes the defense's approach.

"It's still the same schemes, we just have to go in there and get our jobs done," McGee explained. "Everybody just needs to be gap sound, cover all day, and we can get to the quarterback."

The Raiders defensive front – particularly Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack – have been getting after the quarterback at a high clip in recent weeks, so keep an eye on them to see if they make life difficult for Siemian and Lynch Sunday afternoon.

4. Can the special teams unit make a play?

From top to bottom, Jalen Richard has enjoyed a quality rookie campaign in Silver and Black.

Not only is he the team's second-leading rusher with 488 yards, but he's handled the bulk of the return duties as well, and was recently named a Pro Bowl alternate for his production.

However, one thing that he and the special teams unit has not been able to do as of yet this season is score a touchdown on a kick or punt return; in fact, the Raiders haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2011.

In the wake of Derek Carr's injury, the consistent message from the team has been that all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams need to step up and play at a higher level, so I'll be locked in on Richard and Co., as they go about their business Sunday afternoon.

As big play on special teams is the ultimate spark for an offense, so hopefully the Raiders will be fortunate enough to get a lift from the return game.

5. Will the Raiders fly home as division champions?

It's been a long time since the Raiders were back in the postseason – fourteen seasons in fact, and that streak has finally come to an end this season.

And while a playoff berth is nice, winning the division is even better.

The Raiders can do just that Sunday if they're able to beat the Denver Broncos, and if they are indeed able to win the division, they would be able to accomplish one of the goals that Jack Del Rio laid out when he became the head coach of the Silver and Black.

Only time will tell, but once again, the Raiders control their own destiny, and at this point in the season, that's all you can really ask for.

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