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Versus: Raiders finish out season against a familiar face at quarterback

As the Las Vegas Raiders try to end their season on a high note, they'll take on an AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos, at home. The Silver and Black will close the season against the same opponent they started the year with, having won the first battle, 17-16, at Empower Field at Mile High.

A lot has changed for both teams since Week 1, notably changes at starting quarterback. The moves made at signal-caller headline Week 18's key matchups in Allegiant Stadium.

The Raiders defense vs. Jarrett Stidham

When Broncos quarterback Jarrett Stidham lines up against the Raiders defense in Allegiant Stadium this Sunday, a bit of deja vu might come over him.

Denver named Stidham the starting quarterback for the final two games of the season. He's coming off his first NFL win as a starting quarterback, having gone 20-of-32 for 224 yards and a touchdown in their 16-9 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

The season finale comes against a Raiders team he played with last season. In his two starts with the Silver and Black in 2022, Stidham threw for 656 yards and four touchdowns, while breaking the franchise record for most passing yards in a debut (365) against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17.

"The thing that stands out to me is, again, the quick decision making," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said of the fourth-year QB. "He does have an arm, he's mobile in the pocket. It looked like last week he had a pretty good understanding of the offense that Sean [Payton] is running, so all the normal challenges."

The Raiders defense has seven starters who were on the team with Stidham. However, this unit has improved tremendously since last season, currently top 10 in fewest points and passing yards allowed in 2023.

Jack Jones vs. Jerry Jeudy

One of Stidham's main targets against the Chargers was Jerry Jeudy, a receiver always on the Raiders' radar in these divisional matchups.

The 2020 first-rounder is in line for a lot of targets against the Raiders, especially if Courtland Sutton is still unable to play (concussion). After missing Week 1's matchup against the Raiders, Jeudy has maintained a solid level of production throughout the season. He's landed at second on the team in receiving yards and catches only behind Sutton.

While several cornerbacks will get their shot at Jeudy, I expect Jack Jones to see his fair share of snaps against the receiver. Jones has quickly proven himself since arriving to Las Vegas midseason. In six games in the Silver and Black, he's compiled three pass deflections, two interceptions returned for a touchdown while allowing just a 43.2 quarterback passer rating in coverage.

"People talk about the energy, and I think that's something that definitely stands out about Jack. But most importantly, he's a good football player," said Graham.

"Good football player in terms of intellect out there on the field, in terms of being able to decipher things at a high speed because they're making quick decisions out there in a collision sport. You see the study that he puts in, in terms of the film study and trying to get ready for the game. ... The energy thing, it's there, no question. But I don't want to downplay the fact that he's just a really good football player."

Aidan O'Connell vs. Jonathan Cooper

Aidan O'Connell's last challenge of the season will come from outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper.

The 2021 seventh-round pick from Ohio State has established himself as one of Denver's top pass rushers. Cooper leads the team in sacks (8.5) and has also accumulated 13 quarterback hits and 22 quarterback pressures. Additionally, he's recorded a sack in each of his last three games.

Even in defeat to the Colts, O'Connell put together a good showing in Week 17. The rookie quarterback finished with 299 passing yards, two touchdowns and a career-high 30 pass completions. Of the 2023 QB draft class, O'Connell has the second-highest offensive grade from Pro Football Focus with the third-most passing yards (1,974), pass completions (193) and passing touchdowns (10).

"[E]very game, it's a new tactic for him," interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree said. "But for him, just never making the same mistake twice is always a good one to say. And just growing from his practice routine, his daily routine and obviously the execution on gameday. ... He's energetic, he's fun. He's very levelheaded, he doesn't get too up, too down, which at that position in the NFL is important."

View the best photos from the Raiders' Week 17 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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