ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak steps in front of his players Wednesday morning to tell them how the season's final week will go, it will be an unfamiliar discussion for many on the team.
The Broncos, after all, are not in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 -- before many of the Broncos players were Broncos. So playing in a game that doesn’t impact playoff seeding or serve as an opportunity to get ready for a postseason game is something many of those players have not done.
But the Broncos will do it Sunday, and they'd better do it with some effort. In the season finale against the Oakland Raiders, they will be facing a team still trying to win the AFC West title.
“I think about the players and I think about the coaches and how hard they work," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “We battled really hard this year. We had ourselves in pretty good position about four or five weeks ago. We just haven’t played well enough, especially offensively, down the stretch to continue to play some more. It’s disappointing. Everybody is working really hard. It hasn’t been for a lack of effort. I’ll let them know that."
And with the end of season now in full view for the Broncos, here are six Oakland players to watch in Sunday’s matchup, courtesy of ESPN Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez:
QB Matt McGloin: Raider Nation turns its lonely eyes to the Scranton Scrapper, the Red Rifle, the undersized underdog from Penn State who has a Happy Valley-sized chip on his shoulder as he takes over at quarterback for NFL MVP candidate Derek Carr, who suffered a broken fibula in his right leg on Saturday. McGloin is 1-5 as a starter, though he last started a game in 2013, his rookie season. He has 11 TD passes and 11 INTs in 12 career games, completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,847 yards.
RB DeAndre Washington: One half of the Mighty Mite rookie running back corps, along with Jalen Richard, Washington rushed for a career-high 99 yards and had two 22-yard touchdown runs against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. With the success the Raiders had running the ball -- 218 yards -- and maintaining possession -- more than 41 minutes -- against Denver the last time they faced off, expect more of the same effort from Oakland. And keep in mind: Washington is only third on the RB depth chart, behind starter Latavius Murray and Richard.
WR Amari Cooper: His clutch 19-yard catch on third-and-8 late Saturday iced the victory for the Raiders, who had seen their 33-7 lead evaporate into a one-score game. Cooper had four catches for 72 yards against the Colts, his biggest output since Oct. 30, so you have to wonder if he already has a certain chemistry with McGloin, which would be huge for the Raiders going forward.
DE/OLB Khalil Mack: The last time the All-Pro played in Denver, last December, he left the Mile High City with five sacks. And after riding an eight-game sack streak this season, Mack has been shut out the past two weeks. Something’s got to give, right, especially with the defense needing to step up in the absence of Carr on the offensive side of the ball? Mack, per Pro Football Focus, had nine QB pressures against the Colts and leads all NFL edge rushers with 91 total pressures and a PFF grade of 93.8. He has 11 sacks on the season.
FS Reggie Nelson: One of the Raiders’ league-high seven Pro Bowlers, Nelson is leading Oakland with five interceptions, including one against Andrew Luck. And as PFF noted, he did not allow a single completion when he was in primary coverage against the Colts. His five INTS are tied for most in the NFL among safeties, and his PFF grade of 83.6 was fourth-best among safeties. He has been a calming presence in the Raiders secondary since the retirement of Charles Woodson.
DE Mario Edwards Jr.: Activated off injured reserve, where he had been all season after suffering a hip injury in the preseason opener, Edwards played 18 of 55 snaps against the Colts, and while he did not record a stat, his return was a welcome sight for not only the Raiders pass rush but also their run defense. The challenge this week, then, is to see how his body responds to his first regular-season game action in more than a year. PFF had the Raiders missing only three tackles against the Colts, a week after they had four against the Chargers and just two against the Chiefs in Week 14.