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Jakobi Meyers

Associated Press

Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) holds the ball after making a touchdown catch beating Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Denver

• Who: Broncos (8-8) at Raiders (7-9)

• When: 1:25 p.m.

• Where: Allegiant Stadium


• Radio: Raider Nation Radio 920 AM, KOMP 92.3 FM

• Betting line: Raiders -2.5, over/under 38

Be careful characterizing the season finale between the AFC West rivals as “meaningless.”

That’s the type of verbiage typically applied to these types of affairs between two teams eliminated from playoff consideration, but the stakes are real for Denver and Las Vegas this time around — just in a different way.

There might be no immediate reward, but a strong showing could be important for the directions of both franchises long-term. The Raiders are about to undergo a coaching search, and interim coach Antonio Pierce could push his candidacy over the top if he finishes this season with a winning record. He’s currently 4-4. Pierce’s chances of landing the full-time job took a hit last week with a 23-20 loss at Indianapolis six days after he bolstered his credentials by leading the Raiders to a 20-14 upset victory against Kansas City. Broncos coach Sean Payton is in no danger of losing his job, but he could trumpet true progress in his first year if the team finishes with its first winning record since 2016. That’s especially true with the organization having made the controversial switch from Russell Wilson to Jarrett Stidham at quarterback for the final two games of the season. Stidham won in his Denver starting debut a week ago, edging the Los Angeles Chargers 16-9, and now sets his sights on his former team in the Raiders.

Favorable matchup: Raiders’ recent series success vs. Broncos

Stidham is going to have to snap a run of recent history if he wants to lead Denver to the upset. The Broncos haven’t yet beaten the Raiders since the latter moved to Las Vegas ahead of the 2020 season. Las Vegas’ seven-game winning streak against Denver is its longest in the series since it registered 15 straight victories from 1964 to 1971. The most recent victory came in Week 1 of this season when the Raiders edged the Broncos 17-16 in Payton’s debut, but other wins in the span haven’t been as close. The Raiders have beaten the Broncos by an average of eight points per game during the streak. The span has included three different coaches for Denver and four for the Raiders, so it may not be all that more predictive moving forward. But a lot of the personnel is similar. Pierce only arrived in Las Vegas as a linebackers coach before last season, but he said he already felt like he had a better handle on Denver and the team’s other AFC West rivals. There’s something to be said for divisional familiarity, and the Raiders have been able to exploit it in their favor in this matchup.

“I never knew when I was going to retire (as a player), so I played every game like it was my last anyway, it didn’t matter (what was at stake). I expect our guys to do the same. That’s what I talked to them about.” -Pierce on his message to his players and keeping their spirits up despite their goal of the postseason no longer being attainable


“I told the guys the other day — and I’m not going to get emotional, I promise you — but I’ve had the most fun this year coaching this group of players than I have had in my whole career, plain and simple. Not taking away anything from the guys I’ve coached before but (this group’s) growth, how they’ve improved, how they’ve embraced the coaches, the turmoil that we faced, they laid it out on the line for us.” -Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham on the satisfaction he’s taken in building his unit into one of the NFL’s best


“It’s obviously who I want. That’s my vote. I’ve been vocal about that. That’s basically how the whole locker room feels, and with good reason. He’s come in and done a great job and continued to win us over.” -Adams advocating for Pierce earning the full-time coaching job


“I went against ‘Stid’ all year last year on scout team, so I know a couple of his tricks, but I think he’s a really good player and he deserves to start. When he’s gotten his chances, he takes full advantage.” -Hobbs on playing against Stidham

Problematic matchup: Broncos’ second-half ascent vs. Raiders’ up-and-down season

All that being said, it’s undeniable the Broncos hardly resemble the same team the Raiders faced in Week 1. They’ve not only swapped from a veteran to an inexperienced quarterback — as the Raiders also have in going from Jimmy Garoppolo to Aidan O’Connell — but also got younger on defense, opened up their passing offense and diversified their rushing attack. Payton has mostly pushed the right buttons down the stretch, as Denver went from looking like one of the worst teams in the league early to going 7-3 in its past 10 games. The Broncos were sitting just outside of a playoff spot three weeks ago, and highly likely to earn one if they could win three of their final four games, before back-to-back losses to Detroit and New England led to Wilson’s benching. Denver hasn’t been great, but it’s been more consistent on a week-by-week basis over the past two months than volatile rival Las Vegas. The Raiders’ offense had failed to score a touchdown in seven consecutive quarters before O’Connell found star receiver Davante Adams for a pair of scores in the second half of the Colts game. Las Vegas’ defense has been steadier, but showed some cracks for the first time in a while in letting Indianapolis build an 11-point first-half lead.

Gamebreaker: Cornerback Nate Hobbs

Payton has always favored a quick-strike passing game, but his offense has evolved with the Broncos to more heavily lean on slot receivers and the middle of the field. That’s Hobbs’ territory. The third-year cornerback hasn’t been a big-play threat in the Raiders’ defensive backfield, but he’s been the steadiest player in coverage dating back to his return from injury in Week 8. Injuries had held Hobbs out for two prolonged stretches over the past two seasons, but he’s been able to stay in the lineup for nine straight games and further solidify that he’s a player the Raiders should build around. He said he’s taken little satisfaction out of a strong season, though, and still has more to prove. Perhaps an interception would help, as he’s only got one on the year. Hobbs should have his opportunities against the Broncos, who have most commonly used former first-round pick Jerry Jeudy in the slot but have also rotated their most dangerous weapon, Courtland Sutton, into the spot. Sutton and Jeudy are by far the Broncos’ two highest-volume receivers, with 86 and 81 targets, respectively, on the season. Sutton missed Denver’s last game while in the concussion protocol but has practiced in full leading up to the trip to Las Vegas.

Big Number: 4

For the fourth consecutive season, Adams topped 1,000 receiving yards last week after 13-reception, 126-yard performance at the Colts. He’s one of only four players in the NFL — alongside Miami’s Tyreek Hill, Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans — to be currently on such a streak. Adams goes into the final game against the Broncos with 98 receptions for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. It’s a decline from last year, when he had 100 receptions for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns, but the Raiders’ quarterback play has been much spottier this year. Adams described the milestone as “a good notch” but not what he would consider a successful season. Adams still feels scorned from twice earlier in his career when he wound up with 997 receiving yards forwhile with the Green Bay Packers. Because of those near-misses, he has only five 1,000-yard receiving seasons. A record that may mean more to him? He’s now one more 10-reception outing away from setting the NFL’s all-time mark with 24 such games throughout his career.

Best Bet (13-3): Jakobi Meyers over 40.5 receiving yards

Adams’ sidekick was the Raiders’ top offensive performer in the first game against the Broncos, and that’s one thing that may not change in the rematch. Denver rates No. 31 in the league in defending No. 2 receivers, per the DVOA ratings, and a dead-last No. 32 in defending receivers lining up on the right side of the line, where Meyers is most commonly stationed. Meyers had his best statistics line since coming to Las Vegas in Week 1, when he tore up Denver with nine catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s continued to be useful. Meyers’ skillset pairs well with Adams, and he’s more than capable of taking advantage of the double-teams constantly thrown at the top receiving option. Meyers has gone over this number in each of the past two weeks despite the Raiders’ offensive inconsistency, and should be able to fly over it again.

Article written by #LasVegasSun