The Oakland Raiders wrap up the 2016 regular season tomorrow afternoon in Colorado, when they square off against the Denver Broncos in Week 17 action.
Not only will the clash with the Broncos be the Raiders final tune up before heading to the postseason, but it will also serve as quarterback Reggie Nelson's first start since December 2013.
A lot is on the line Sunday afternoon, so you understandably had some questions before kickoff. Well now, we have answers.
Kylee M: How much will the offense change with Matt McGloin under center?
EP:Honestly, I don't think we'll so much of a difference with McGloin as the Raiders signal-caller this week, and in the weeks going forward. The fourth-year quarterback is just as familiar with the Bill Musgrave's offense as Derek Carr is, so there won't be anything in the playbook that will be off limits. Not only that, but in talking with quarterbacks coach Todd Downing earlier this week about No. 14, he said that McGloin has a strong arm, and that there aren't any throws he isn't capable of making. I totally understand the disappointment that Carr isn't going to be leading the offense for the time being, but McGloin is a more-than-capable replacement, and the Raiders coaching staff is going to make sure that going forward he's put in positions to succeed. The former Penn State Nittany Lion is not only playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football, but he also has the benefit of having playmakers up and down the roster, from the team's trio of running backs, to the wide receivers, and even the fullback. The Raiders boast one of the best offenses in the NFL, and I expect to see much of the same with McGloin under center.
Steven V: Will DeAndre Washington see a bigger role in the offense moving forward?
EP: **If he keeps delivering performances like he did last weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, you'd have to imagine the coaching staff will have to scheme ways to get him the ball more. Washington was electric against the Colts, rushing the ball 12 times for a career-high 99 yards, as well as the first two touchdowns of his young career. Sunday's effort was indicative of how the Raiders have handled the ground game in 2016, as they've constantly fed the hot hand, who in last week's case was the rookie from Texas Tech. All three of the Raiders backs – and even fullback Derek Carr – bring a little something different to the table, and having a plethora of players who can run the ball effectively is a luxury that not many NFL teams are fortunate enough to have. To get back to your question though, I do anticipate Washington being heavily involved in the game plan going forward, whether that's running the ball, catching passes out of the backfield, or a little bit of both. You have to get your playmakers the ball, and Washington showed last week that he certainly is just that, a playmaker.
Vutavius K: In his second game back, how much of an impact will Mario Edwards Jr. have on our defense?
EP:Edwards played just 18 snaps in last weekend's win over the Colts, primarily in third down situations, but that limit on his snaps was very much by design. Let's not forget that prior to last week, No. 97 hadn't played a meaningful snap of football since the Raiders preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals all the way back in August. Even though Edwards had been back on the practice field for a few weeks prior to the game, that's a long time to go without strapping the pads on and getting after it in in a live game setting. That being said, I do anticipate seeing Edwards getting on the field a little more against the Broncos, and hopefully filling up the stat sheet a bit too. There's no way to replicate playing an NFL game except actually doing it, so I think the experience Edwards got last week will drastically help him, and make him more comfortable going forward.
Madison I:What are our division-clinching scenarios? What needs to happen for us to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC?
EP:The Raiders once again control their own destiny, so it's a pretty simple scenario for the Silver and Black this weekend; if they beat the Broncos, they will win their first AFC West title since 2002. If they don't though, all is not lost, as Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group can still capture the division if the Kansas City Chiefs lose or tie to the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium. As far as the No. 1 seed goes, that scenario is also pretty straightforward; in order to be the top seed in the conference, the Raiders have to take care of the Broncos, and then hope that the New England Patriots fall in their regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders control their own destiny, and at this juncture of the season, it's hard to ask for much more than that.
@SlippyField:On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest of importance, how important is the Denver game this week?
EP:I think that it's important that we stay even keel when discussing Sunday's game against the Broncos. Is there a lot on the line for the Raiders when they hit the field in Denver? Absolutely. If the Silver and Black can handle the Broncos, they'll earn their first division title since 2002, which is significant to the organization in myriad ways. However, even if the Raiders do lose Sunday's game, the division is still in play, although they'll need a little help at that point if they want to claim the AFC West crown. I think the only time you can say that a game is a 10 on the importance scale is if it's a must-win game, which Sunday's game is not. Now, that's not to discount how important the next 24 hours are going to be for the Silver and Black, but even if the team is indeed defeated, they still have earned a berth in the postseason tournament, and everything they want to accomplish is still in front of them.
Marcus P:** Will we see more of Jamize Olawale in goal line situations?
EP:I'll say this, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more of the versatile fullback going forward when the Raiders are close to the goal line. Standing at 6'1" and tipping the scales at 240 pounds, Olawale is a powerful runner, who has shown time and time again that he can be effective when carrying the ball, particularly when things get a little more congested down near the end zone. Olawale has three career rushing touchdowns – including two this season – and the big frame that he possesses certainly makes him a viable weapon for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to implement. The Raiders stable of running backs have all shown the ability to be rough runners between the tackles, so even if Olawale isn't getting the rock when the team is close to punching the ball into the end zone, he's still incredibly valuable as a lead blocker, clearing space for whoever is running behind him.
Yung L: What are your thoughts on Nate Allen's play since filling in for Karl Joseph?
EP:Whenever I think of Nate Allen, one word comes to mind; pro. After starting five games in 2015 for the Raiders, Allen played almost exclusively on special teams until he stepped in for an injured Karl Joseph Week 13. Since that time, Allen has started three games for the Raiders, and has also tallied a pair of interceptions in the process. Give the veteran safety credit too, since he returned to the base defense, Allen has looked well-prepared and confident playing on the back end of the Raiders defense with Reggie Nelson, and there hasn't seemed to be a drop off in play since he began taking a bulk off the defensive reps. Now, there's no doubt that Allen hasn't been perfect, but over the past few weeks he's shown to have a nose for the football, and his play is a big reason why the Raiders defense has been playing a high clip in weeks past.
Ricky W: Is Derek Carr still a legitimate MVP candidate following his injury?
EP:Sure. That being said, his MVP bid will unquestionably take a hit since he won't play the final game of the regular season, or likely be at the helm during the Raiders run into the postseason, but even so, it's hard to overstate how impressive Carr's 2016 season was. The Raiders quarterback threw for just under 4,000 yards, and 28 touchdowns, and not only that, he led seven fourth-quarter comebacks before he went down to injury, all the while serving as the emotional leader for the Silver and Black. While it might be a bit of a longshot that No. 4 actually comes away with the MVP nod at this point, his numbers alone, combined with the success that the Raiders found this year, certainly warrant that he's in the conversation for the league's Most Valuable Player.