ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As the Broncos end their 57th season, there might be a few scattered souls who lament, "It wasn't supposed to be this way." But in any major-league professional sport, you usually get what you deserve.
The Broncos will miss the playoffs. They will miss the playoffs because they rank sixth from the bottom in total offense, while ranking sixth in the NFL in total defense. While they lead the league in pass defense, they rank 29th against the run.
"You look at the stats, that's probably the lowest we've been since I've been here in run defense," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We're still a top-five defense overall, but that's not what we want; we want to be No. 1."
And for the first time in six years, the Broncos will win fewer games than they lost against AFC West foes. Even with a win Sunday, they would finish just 2-4 in division play.
"We only have ourselves to blame, especially within the division," said Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. "Outside of the division we have a pretty good record, but we haven't played well in the division."
Sunday afternoon against the Raiders brings a chance to stop that recent slide, and wash out the lingering aftertaste of last week's humbling 33-10 defeat at Kansas City. And the Broncos have motivation -- even if it comes from different sources than you'd want for Week 17. The pride in doing your best, for example. And for the secondary, the pride in being the best -- in finishing atop the league in pass defense once again.
"We want to finish the season No. 1 in pass defense," Harris said.
What are three keys to Sunday's game?
1. SUSTAIN DRIVES
The Broncos' only two touchdown drives in their last three games covered just 26 and 6 yards. Not only do the Broncos need to put some lengthy marches together to give the offense some confidence to take into the offseason, but they need them to keep Oakland's ground game off the field and prevent the Raiders from racking up the 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession they amassed in Week 9.
- CONTAIN THE RUN**
Oakland gashed the Broncos for 218 rushing yards and 5.07 yards per carry in Week 9, which was one of a slew of games in which the Broncos allowed an opponent to rush well beyond their season-long averages. For the season, the Broncos allowed teams to average 0.27 more yards per carry and 25.8 more yards per game than their average.
The season-ending injury to Derek Carr puts Matt McGloin under center -- and could lead the Raiders to emphasize the ground game that worked so well in Oakland two months ago. But if the Broncos can contain the run, their pressure and coverage could generate takeaways from a quarterback who has a career 11-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
3. GET OUT HEALTHY
With the page turned to 2017, this is the biggest key of all. Nothing would make an already frustrating season worse than to see an injury to one of the key components of the Broncos' hopes for a return to the playoffs next season.
Take a look at the five most-important matchups of the Broncos' final game of the season. (Photos by AP)