LAS VEGAS — As the Broncos take the field for the last time in the 2023 season, there's still plenty at stake.
While Denver won't be postseason bound, the Broncos have a chance to secure a winning record for the first time since 2016 and post their best division mark since winning Super Bowl 50.
"I think getting nine wins is important, and I think it's important for our players to understand that," Head Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday "I think they do, as well. … There are a ton of these peaks and valleys during any NFL season. When you look at a team like Philadelphia — it just comes with everyone. Certainly, we had our fair share, but I think finishing strong is important."
In addition to a 9-8 record, the Broncos would also snap a seven-game skid to Las Vegas and earn their first road win against the Raiders since 2015.
"Obviously the last game of the year — divisional game," cornerback Pat Surtain II said Thursday. "Why not end it off the right way?"
As Denver looks to finish its season on an 8-3 run, here's a look at a matchup to watch, a question to answer and a stat to know.
MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Pat Surtain II vs. Davante Adams
For as long as Surtain and Davante Adams face off, there's a good chance the battle will be the matchup of the game.
In Week 1, Surtain shadowed Adams on 16-of-26 routes and held the All-Pro receiver to two catches for 11 yards, according to Next Gen Stats. Surtain also recorded a career-high three pass breakups as Adams received five targets during the game.
With running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Michael Mayer ruled out for the game, Surtain's responsibility becomes that much more important. If he can slow Adams, the Raiders will be forced to turn to secondary weapons. In Week 1, Jakobi Meyers caught nine passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns to hurt Denver — and the Broncos must find a way to stop him, as well. Still, the defensive task likely begins with neutralizing Adams.
"I look forward to it each and every time we play," Surtain said. "Obviously he's a great receiver, I'm a great cornerback. Going up against him, iron sharpens iron. It's going to be a great matchup."
Adams heads into Sunday's game following a highly productive Week 17 showing. In a loss to the Colts, Adams caught 13 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 21 targets. The veteran receiver has now posted a pair of games this season with at least 10 catches, 125 yards and two touchdowns.
ONE BIG QUESTION:
What does Jarrett Stidham have in store for an encore?
In his first start as a Bronco, Jarrett Stidham played a solid, turnover-free game. He completed 20-of-32 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and a 93.8 quarterback rating — and he earned his first NFL win.
"Our job is to score," Payton said Monday. "We had opportunities in the tight red [zone vs. the Chargers] and certainly down at the 1-yard line. That's the first thing. I thought Jarrett did a good job — after seeing the tape — with his decisions, the ball security, and all those things you want to see from that position. … There were a lot of positives to build off."
As he returns to Las Vegas to make a road start against his former team, he'll look to continue his success against one of the league's most productive defenses over the second half of the season.
Since Antonio Pierce took the reins as interim head coach ahead of Week 9, the Raiders rank first in scoring defense (16.3 points per game allowed) and also rank in the top 10 in takeaways and sacks.
Despite the challenge, Payton acknowledged the snaps against the Raiders — and last week's against the Chargers — will be valuable for Stidham as the Broncos head into the offseason.
"That's the case with every player, right?" Payton said. "We are constantly evaluating how they play, and then, it would definitely carry over to how we feel about next year, relative to their role. The answer would be yes. I think these are important snaps and games for him."
STAT TO KNOW:
If the Broncos' defense can hold the Raiders to 16 or fewer points in Sunday's matchup, the unit will make history. Through five games against division opponents, the Broncos have allowed just 61 points — and no division rival has reached the 20-point threshold against Denver this season. Entering Week 18, the Broncos have allowed the fewest points to division opponents of any NFL team, and they can set a franchise mark against the Raiders.
Should the defense allow 16 points or fewer, Denver would set a franchise record for the fewest points allowed to division opponents over the course of a season.
"This week coming up, we're looking to finish it off strong," Surtain said of the defense's performance this season.