ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One last time this season, the Broncos will take the field looking for a win.
And after a 37-12 loss to the Raiders in mid-November, the Broncos will be looking for redemption against their division rival.
There is no playoff bid at stake for either of these two AFC West teams, but the Broncos must earn a win to avoid being swept by the Raiders. In each of the last five seasons, the Broncos have split the season series with their division foe — and they'll look to keep that going in the early days of 2021.
A win would also send the Raiders to their sixth loss in their last seven games. With a win over Denver in October, the Raiders improved to 6-4 for the second consecutive season. And just like a year ago, the Raiders may end the season 7-9 after that quick start.
These are the questions that will decide if Denver can earn its second consecutive season-ending win over Las Vegas and kick off the new year with a win:
CAN THE BRONCOS PLAY A CLEANER GAME?
Earlier this season, the Broncos were driving to end the first half of the first meeting between these two teams. With the ball at the Las Vegas 5-yard line, Drew Lock ran into the end zone for a go-ahead score, but the touchdown was negated by a penalty. One play later, Lock threw an interception into the end zone.
It was one of four interceptions for Lock on the day, which set a career worst for the young quarterback. DaeSean Hamilton also lost a fumble, which capped a season-worst five-turnover day for Denver. Through 15 games, the Raiders rank 29th in the league in takeaways as they've recorded 15 turnovers. Five of those came in that Week 10 game against the Broncos.
To make the situation worse, the Broncos did not record a takeaway in the game, either. They currently hold a minus-20 turnover ratio, which is the worst in the lead by a wide margin. The next closest team sits at minus-10.
"Well, it's twofold," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday. "One, we have turned it over too much. Then, two, we haven't gotten it enough. Sometimes when you get out of whack that way, it's one side or the other being the major culprit, but it's been a team problem this year on both sides of the ball and obviously we have to rectify it. One is we have to protect it better on offense, that's for sure, and then we have to find a way to get the ball out, get some interceptions, be a little more disruptive on defense to allow us to get them."
Lock has turned the ball over in every game but one this year, and he'll need to play a clean game for the Broncos to remain in the game against Las Vegas.
CAN DENVER STOP DARREN WALLER?
Travis Kelce and George Kittle are widely considered the NFL's top tight ends.
It's clear after the last two years that Darren Waller belongs in the conversation, as well.
Waller earned his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2020 as he has recorded 98 receptions for 1,079 yards and eight touchdowns. He has now posted consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards.
Waller wasn't a huge headache for the Broncos in Week 10, as he recorded just three catches for 37 yards, but it's clear he has big-play potential. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound player posted four 100-yard games this season and tallied 13 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets a few weeks ago.
While Denver's safeties may be required to help a thin cornerback group, stopping Waller must remain a priority.
"He's just a tremendous player," Fangio said. "He's a rare guy in that he could be a full-time wide receiver if they want him to, and he can obviously play tight end as well. He's a capable blocker and he creates a lot of problems. He's extremely fast for a guy his size and he's very athletic for a guy his size with his size and speed combination. He's one of the top two or three tight ends in the league for sure."
WHO IS MORE MOTIVATED?
It'd be easy for either team to simply go through the motions in Week 17 with nothing more on the line than pride.
The Broncos, though, have refused to take that easy path and have continued to battle over the last several weeks.
"I just think it's the foundation that you set from Day 1 that you're going to play hard — you're not going to accept anything less than that," Fangio said of the team's standard before Week 16. "The players need to hold themselves accountable for that; obviously as coaches we need to do that also. I think it's just become a good habit for these guys that they're going to play hard."
Who is willing to sprint and sacrifice their body to make the touchdown-saving tackle? Who will make a diving catch? Who will throw a block that springs the ball carrier for extra yards?
Those answers are entirely reliant on effort, and they could decide who wins the game.