DENVER — For the final time this season, the Broncos will take the field at Empower Field at Mile High, and they're set to end the season with an important divisional matchup.
As the Broncos and Raiders meet for the final time this decade, Denver has an opportunity to spoil Oakland's slim playoff hopes. With a win, the Broncos would improve to 4-1 in their last five games and knock the Raiders from playoff contention.
"We're here to end our season on a right note for next year and they want to try to get to a playoff game, so it's going to be a battle," Phillip Lindsay said Tuesday. "You can say this is like a little playoff game for them because if they think they're going to come in here and just get one, they're sadly mistaken."
But Sunday's game represents more than a chance to ruin a rival's season. If they even the series season, the Broncos would secure their best home record since 2016 and their best division record since 2015. Denver would also atone for a 24-16 season-opening loss in the Black Hole.
Denver's path to victory against a playoff hopeful will not be easy, though.
These are the questions the Broncos must answer if they hope to finish the season with a win.
CAN SUTTON BETTER HIS WEEK 1 PERFORMANCE?
In Courtland Sutton's breakout season, his first game may have been his finest.
Against the Raiders in Week 1, Sutton tallied a season high in both catches and receiving yards as he caught seven of his eight targets for 120 yards. The Broncos' offense struggled mightily that week, as the unit experienced its first game action in Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello's system.
Sutton, though, proved he could be a weapon for Denver's offense. The second-year receiver has since bested his rookie totals in catches, yards and touchdowns — and he's posted a pair of two-touchdown games.
Though he was a Pro Bowl snub, Sutton has identified himself as the Broncos' No. 1 option and as a deep-ball threat that is as good as any in the NFL.
Scangarello, who said he thought Sutton caught Oakland by surprise in Week 1, has compared Sutton to Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
"It's an honor to hear that — to be in the same conversation as somebody who has earned the respect amongst everyone in the league, amongst everyone around this sport," Sutton said Thursday. "It's an honor to be in that same category. I watched a lot of his targets when we hired Coach Rich. I watched a lot of Julio's targets to see what he did in Atlanta with the similar offense. I imitated a lot of what he did and the way he plays the game because he demands so much respect when he's on field. Whether he's getting the ball or not, he opens up [the field] for other people. When it's his turn to get the ball, he makes the plays. These are all things that I wanted to incorporate into my game. Like I said, to be able to have Coach Rich, who was around Julio, come say that I have similarities to Julio is nice."
Sutton will aim to channel his inner Jones on Sunday in the final game of his sophomore campaign. If he can replicate his Week 1 performance — or toss in a touchdown or two, as well — the Broncos will be able to show Oakland just how far their offense has come since the season's opening week.
HOW DOES THE DEFENSE COMBAT DEREK CARR?
The Broncos are never in for an easy matchup against three-time Pro Bowler Derek Carr, who is 5-5 in his career against the Broncos.
That's especially true since the teams' second game of the 2017 season. Including that Week 12 Raiders win in Oakland, Carr has completed no fewer than 73 percent of his passes in games against the Broncos. Carr and the Raiders have won three of those four games, though all but one were one-score contests.
Carr's most accurate game, a Week 2 contest in 2018 in which Carr completed 90.6 percent of his passes, was the Broncos' lone win since October of 2017.
In Oakland's Week 1 win this season, Carr completed 22-of-26 passes for 259 yards, one touchdown and a 121.0 quarterback rating.
And though a narrative suggests that Carr is only accurate because he completes short, quick passes, the Raiders quarterback has averaged at least 9 yards per attempt in three of his last four games vs. Denver.
It is true, though, that Carr gets the ball out of his hands quick — and that neutralizes Denver's most valuable defensive weapon.
Von Miller has recorded just 1.5 sacks against Oakland during the most recent four-game stretch, and he has been held sackless over the last two matchups.
Vic Fangio's defense was still working out the kinks in Week 1, and Derek Carr and running back Josh Jacobs took advantage as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead. With Jacobs listed as doubtful, Carr may have to carry a larger load. If the Broncos can get pressure and force him to be inaccurate, their chances of evening the season series will drastically improve.
The Broncos may get some help from the weather, too. According to ESPN's Stats & Information department, Carr is 0-5 in games that are played at 40 degrees or below. He has averaged 166 passing yards, completed 54 percent of his passes and tallied a 9.0 QBR in those conditions. Additionally, Carr's touchdown-to-interception ratio is just 4-6.
The temperature in Denver is expected to hover below 40 degrees in Denver on Sunday.
CAN LOCK FIND SUCCESS AS HIS AUDITION CONCLUDES?
As the Broncos head toward the offseason, rookie quarterback Drew Lock has one more opportunity to prove he should be the team's starter in 2020.
Through four games, he's posted 843 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions and an 89.4 quarterback rating. He threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start and has earned wins in both of his games at home.
He can improve his division record — albeit in a short stint as the starter — to 2-1 with a win Sunday over the Raiders.
Lock seems prepared to do just that, as he's helped his offense boost its scoring from 15.9 points per game to 22.8 points per game. The second-round pick has also led the offense to better efficiency on third down, and he's been sacked just three times in four weeks.
With another good performance against Oakland, he could stake his claim to the team's starting job next season.
"I think I still have stuff to prove going into this week, but I think I've done a good job up to this point, especially because of the guys around me, the way they're playing and the way everyone's been helping me along the way," Lock said Thursday. "My goal was to prove it to them and in the end, that's going to be their ultimate decision at the end of this year. I put my best foot forward and I feel like it was definitely good enough."
Despite his success, neither John Elway nor Vic Fangio has publicly named him the team's long-term starter — and that's OK with Lock.
"I'm going to approach it like I'm the guy," Lock said Once I took my first step out on the field as a starter, that was just my mentality. I wasn't going to lose it, I was going to keep it. That's the kind of mindset I had, that's the kind of guy I want to be for this place and that's the kind of guy I think this place deserves."
Fangio said Friday that he's "glad he feels that way."
Another win, and Lock may just do enough to make sure he's the quarterback in Denver for the foreseeable future.