The Oakland Raiders will put an end on a forgettable 2013 season this afternoon when they take on the Denver Broncos with a (slim) chance to spoil their rivals hopes at an AFC West title, but the real drama will be unfolding after the game.
With uncertain futures for head coach Dennis Allen and his coaching staff, namely coordinators Jason Tarver and Greg Olson, as well as nearly half a roster that were on either expiring deals or one year contracts during a rebuilding season may be playing their last game as an Oakland Raider. Making Sunday an afternoon that could be a defining one in the history of the team.
A year in which GM Reggie McKenzie sacrificed to free up cap space for a rebuild is now all but over, but with one game left there is a lot to prove for the key figures that will be on the field Sunday.
For the coaching staff, they are trying to save their jobs despite the report that Dennis Allen might be safe after all if Mark Davis can’t convince Jon Gruden to come out of retirement. That will be reliant on if the Raiders can somehow match a team that has already beaten them soundly earlier in the season at Mile High Stadium and features a motivated Peyton Manning looking to lock up an AFC West title and put his single season touchdown passing record out of reach.
Luckily for the Raiders, they will have motivated players looking to spin their season into a positive narrative in an attempt to earn better contracts or a better situation in 2014.
Darren McFadden will be playing what is very likely his last game as an Oakland Raider unless he takes a massive payday as the oft injured running back’s deal is coming to an end this offseason. After missing over half the season for another year it is unlikely that any team in the NFL will be willing to hand DMC more than a small contract to prove his worth, but he will be trying to go out on a high note if he is not already in talks with McKenzie and Davis to take a pay cut to stat in ‘Oakland next season.
In a slightly different circumstance, Lamarr Houston will also be ending his contract with the Raiders, but the defensive end might think he will be slightly more coveted than McFadden despite falling off in the second half of 2013. Houston, whose agent is Drew Rosenhaus, was hoping for a big payday at the end of the season and looked as if he was going to get it during the first half of 2013 before the Raiders defensive struggles and the ability of opposing teams to double team Houston has cooled the 2014 free agent’s jets heading into the offseason. He too will be hoping at ending the season with a big game, but could very likely be the player who the Raiders franchise tag for 2014 so Houston may be heading for a big payday soon even if he doesn’t get to Peyton Manning today.
At quarterback the Raiders will have to passers hoping to show why they should be in the quarterback competition next season, but the starter might have surprised some people as Terrelle Pryor will get the ball to start Week 17. After losing the job to Matt McGloin, Pryor has remained professional throughout and has said mostly the right thing whenever asked about being a backup. In 2012 he came out with a breakout performance against the Chargers to start the buzz on Pryor heading into training camp where he won the starting job. Pryor will be hoping for a repeat of that while McGloin will be hoping he just gets a chance to enter the game on Sunday after being demoted for the final week after promising increases in the Raiders offensive success with him under center during the second half of 2013.
On the Broncos side, things are very similar to the last Raiders-Broncos clash for Denver. They are still looking to clinch the AFC West and homefield advantage in the playoffs, they still don’t have Von Miller who was injured after returning from suspension, and Peyton Manning is still rewriting the record books. For those reasons it is highly unlikely the Raiders can find a win to end 2013, but looking to jump in the 2014 Draft that might actually be a good thing for the future. Even if Raider fans don’t quite know who will be included in those future plans yet.