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Key Matchups To Watch: Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos


The Oakland Raiders travel to Colorado this weekend to wrap up the regular season Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos.

While the Raiders have already clinched a playoff berth, with a win in the regular season finale against the Broncos, the Silver and Black can secure their first division title since 2002.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio's team will have their hands full with the defending Super Bowl champions, so before the team departs for Denver, let's highlight three matchups that will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Week 17 showdown.

Quarterback Matt McGloin vs. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips

The former Penn State Nittany Lion started six games as a rookie in 2013, but served as the team's backup quarterback over the past two seasons; however, that all changed when Derek Carr broke his fibula in the fourth quarter of last week's win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Now, McGloin is the starting quarterback for the Silver and Black, and set to make his first start in just over three years Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field.

"The support's been great, as it always has been," said McGloin when asked about his whirlwind few days since Carr's injury. "That's just extra motivation right there, you know? You see how many people – family, friends – care about you. How many people in Raider Nation care about you and want you to succeed and do well."

Not only is McGloin making his first start of the season in the regular season finale, but he's going to do so against a Denver Broncos team that currently ranks No. 6 in the NFL, allowing just 322.4 yards per game.

McGloin's performance Sunday afternoon against the Broncos will be examined, reexamined, and then broken down again, but I'll be keeping a close eye on how No. 14 responds to the moment, as he makes his first start since 2013.

Running Backs Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington vs. Inside Linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis

What's any quarterback's best friend? A strong running game.

With McGloin making his first start in 2016 Sunday afternoon, the Raiders will likely once again lean on their running game, which isn't a bad thing at all, as the group has been playing at a high level over the past month or so.

Also, the last time the Raiders took on the Broncos – a Week Nine matchup that the Raiders won 30-20 –the Silver and Black dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up a season-high 218 yards on the ground.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Raiders knew that they had a true stable of running backs at their disposal, and that three-headed-monster was evident in the team's Week 16 win over the Indianapolis Colts where the Silver and Black tallied 210 yards on the ground en route to a 32-25.

It seems like each week a different back is the one to enter the limelight, and in last weekend's game, DeAndré Washington was the one to answer the call, rushing the ball 12 times for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"He definitely exploded," said offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. "The quickness and dynamic speed that he showed, we definitely needed it. It was fun. He got the hot hand, and we just kept riding him. It was great."

The Broncos boast a stout defense, but if they have shown one weakness it's that they've been susceptible against the run, allowing 135.2 rushing yards per game, and that's one area that the Raiders will look to exploit.

Wide Receiver Amari Cooper vs. Aqib Talib

This battle between a pair of Pro Bowl players is going to be a fun to watch Sunday afternoon.

Cooper hasn't found the end zone since Week 13, but although he's been kept off the scoreboard in recent weeks, the second-year wide receiver has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark yet again, and also enjoyed a resurgent game in last week's win over the Colts, hauling in a critical third down pass from Matt McGloin to ice the game for the Silver and Black.

Entering the final week of regular season play, Talib has 12 passes defensed and three interceptions, and after not playing in the first matchup between the division rivals in 2016, he will be tasked with slowing down Cooper and the rest of the Raiders dynamic wide outs.

The Broncos defense has excelled at limiting yards through the air all season, so I'll be keeping a close eye on Cooper to see if he is able to impose his will in the regular season finale in Denver.

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