The fine line between over and under .500
In late December, this second matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos is more than just a divisional rivalry game. Both of their seasons are on the line.
Both teams holding the same record of 7-7 going into this game. Additionally, the unpredictability of the AFC has them both fighting for a playoff wildcard spot – with one game separating the fifth through thirteenth seed in the conference at the moment. With the Raiders peeking into the playoffs from the outside, a home win over the Broncos is a necessity, not a luxury.
"In the NFL, one thing I do know, the last game doesn't dictate the next game. We've proven that as a team," Derek Carr said. "We may have had success before but that means nothing this week. We have to go to work, we have to study, we have to prepare and be ready to play, again, who I think is one of the best defenses in the NFL."
Maxx Crosby vs. Drew Lock
Now that Teddy Bridgewater has been ruled out to play Sunday, Drew Lock will be under center for the Broncos. Lock was the Broncos' starter last season, and he didn't have the greatest amount of success against the Raiders – primarily due to the constant pass rush of Maxx Crosby.
In Lock's two games versus the Raiders last season, he threw three touchdowns, four interceptions and was sacked four times. Two of those sacks came from Crosby, who has continued to excel this season as a pass-rusher, leading to his selection to the 2022 Pro Bowl, the first appearance of his career.
"Again, we're going into a game where we're preparing for multiple quarterbacks. Going into this past weekend and our defense has done a really good job with that," Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia said Tuesday. "So, I think it'll stay status quo. [The Broncos] were tough for us last time when we played them. They were tough last year when we played them, regardless of who the quarterback has been."
Casey Hayward Jr. vs. Courtland Sutton
Casey Hayward Jr. has been a problem this season.
The former All-Pro cornerback has been one of the most consistent and viable pieces of the Raiders secondary this season. The veteran has yet to surrender a touchdown in coverage this season, alongside five pass deflections and 39 total tackles this season.
While the Raiders will expect Hayward to defend a plethora of talented Broncos receivers, right now their No. 1 guy to eye is Cortland Sutton. He currently leads the Broncos in targets (85) and receiving yards (670) to go along with two receiving touchdowns this season. Sutton had one of his best games of the season in the Broncos' 34-24 loss to the Raiders in October – securing eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
With the amount of injuries and COVID related issues surrounding the Raiders secondary at the moment – both Nate Hobbs and Brandon Facyson were placed on the Reserve/COVID list – Hayward playing at a high level will be crucial this Sunday.