ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The focus is on the Raiders, but the reality of elimination before Week 17 is that the Broncos have a hard and fast endpoint to the season. Thus, the 2017 season and the process of working toward it is already underway.
"We still have one game, but we just have to let that go on and start building [for] 2017," OLB Von Miller said.
And in that spirit, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders already has one part of his plan in place.
Take a photographic trip through the series history between the Broncos and the Raiders.
- SANDERS WANTS A JUMP START ON OFFSEASON WORK**
When Peyton Manning was the Broncos' quarterback, he organized throwing sessions for fellow members of the Broncos' passing corps at Duke University. Mark Sanchez followed suit immediately after joining the Broncos last March, inviting his then-new teammates and Trevor Siemian to join him in Orange County.
Now Sanders wants to pick up the baton and continue the tradition.
"One thing I am going to try to do in the offseason is I'm going to try to host guys out of Houston," he said. "I'm going to try to host Paxton [Lynch] and Trevor out there and get the receivers out there to do what we do. I'll probably do that about two weeks prior to OTAs to get that camaraderie going. That's what I am going to try to do."
And given the performance of the offense, any extra work would be helpful in trying to create some distance from a season that will see the Broncos finish in the league's bottom quarter in a slew of metrics.
"At some point you have to step up and accept that if we would have played better offensively this season, we probably would have made the playoffs. That's just how it is," Sanders said. "Our defense played tremendous. Offensively, we lacked. We were inconsistent at times.
"We just have to get better and we are going to get better."
- PHILLIPS: "RUN GAME WAS WHAT HURT US"**
Although Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips will not dive into his post-season analysis of his unit until next week, the numbers make clear what he knows by watching his unit this year.
"Stat-wise, you can see that the run game was what hurt us," Phillips said. "We actually [had] probably better stats against the pass than we did last year -- which was phenomenal."
If the Broncos continue their season-long averages of 135 rushing yards allowed per game and 4.35 yards permitted per carry, they will join 69 other teams since 1997 to have those numbers or worse against the run. Just six of those previous 69 clubs had winning records; only four made the postseason. The average record of those teams was 5-11, underscoring the correlation between run defense and W-L success.
"The most important thing is to win," Phillips said. "It's just like last week -- I said all along, it doesn't matter if [the opponent has] 500 yards if we win the ballgame."
But run defense undoubtedly played a crucial role in the Broncos' descent to 8-7 -- never more so than last Sunday at Kansas City. In a first quarter that Phillips called "the worst quarter I've ever seen," the Broncos gave up 137 yards on just 11 carries. The defense rebounded, allowing 12 points the rest of the game, but it was too little, too late.
Nevertheless, the defense's ability to eventually contain the bleeding and give the offense chances to get the Broncos back in the game offers Phillips the belief that his unit will play with fire Sunday.
"That's why I think those guys will still practice and come back and play hard this weekend," Phillips said.
- "FUEL IS STILL IN THE TANK"**
That was part of DeMarcus Ware's Instagram post Wednesday in the wake of being put on injured reserve because of a ruptured disc in his back.
Ware is scheduled to undergo a scope on the ruptured disc Friday, and the recovery should be "pretty quick," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
"He wasn't feeling like himself, and he battled for us this year," Kubiak said. "He had some issues going on; he missed all of [training] camp with the infection, and those type of things."
But despite a litany of injuries that include multiple back issues plus a fractured forearm, Ware's coaches and teammates believe he has more in him.
"I see him every day. That Ferrari, it might have brake issues, but it still has gas in the tank and you can get those brakes fixed and you're still going to be a Ferrari at the end of the day; a Ferrari around just regular cars," fellow OLB Von Miller said. "He still has gas in the tank and I would like to see him come back."
"One thing about him: He takes great care of himself," Kubiak said. "He's in amazing shape for his age. He's got good football left in him and his attitude is really good."
Added Phillips: "I wish I had his body. So does my wife."
- WHAT WARE MEANS**
Miller and Shane Ray were blessed with speed, size, quickness and instincts that made them first-round pass rushers. Both have lived up to their billing.
But it's possible that neither would be quite as elite without Ware being in the room, providing leadership by words, deeds and example.
"He's amazing. He really is. Everybody looks up to him," Kubiak said. "Of course, his career speaks for itself, but he's such a class act for kids to see every day."
Perhaps no one has paid more attention to Ware the last two years than Miller, Ray and fellow outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
"What does DeMarcus Ware mean to me? I could sit here all day and just write a book about the moments that DeMarcus has impacted my life," Miller said. "Just to put it in a summary, I've been in the league six years and three of those years have been with DeMarcus.
If you look at my years with DeMarcus and you look at the type of player that I was and the type of person that I am now during DeMarcus' tenure is entirely different. If you know about Denver and the Denver Broncos, you would know exactly the type impact that he's had in my life and in my career.
Added Kubiak: "I know Von's reached an MVP level, and a lot of Pro Bowls, but Von still watches DeMarcus handle himself every day. That's just the utmost respect for [Ware] and what he means to people around him."
- REMEMBERING BRUCE DeHAVEN**
Given the unique nature of their jobs, the ranks of NFL special-teams coordinators represent a close-knit fraternity, so the Tuesday death of longtime special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven from cancer hit Joe DeCamillis hard.
The two coached opposite of each other last February at Super Bowl 50, which turned out to be DeHaven's last game on the sideline before he stepped back into an advisory role in August when he returned to Buffalo to receive cancer treatment.
"He's one of the pioneer-type guys," DeCamillis said, citing other long-time special-teams coaches who died in recent years, including Pete Rodriguez and Joe Avezzano.
"He was one of those guys that everybody looked up to and studied their film. He was a great person, too. He helped me, too."
DeHaven broke into the NFL in 1987 with the Buffalo Bills after three seasons in the USFL preceded by four in college. He spent 16 seasons with the Bills during two separate stints, and also guided the special-teams units of the 49ers, Cowboys, Seahawks and Panthers during 30 NFL seasons.
"The biggest key that he did was he put emphasis on it -- and you could tell by how hard his guys played," DeCamillis said. "I can remember all the way back when they were in Buffalo, they had a guy named [Mark] Pike, and then they also had [seven-time Pro Bowler Steve] Tasker, who was just unbelievable.
"His schemes and the things that he did were all really solid and all really good, and that's why he was in it for 30 years. We're going to miss him."