ALAMEDA, Calif. — Sixteen weeks have come and gone, and now the Raiders have one slim chance to make the postseason with their 2019 regular-season finale against the Broncos.
With their record standing at 7-8, the Raiders have a chance to finish a season at .500 or better for only the second time since 2011. The Raiders finished with a winning record in 2016 when they went 12-4.
More than that, if the Raiders win, the Colts win, the Titans lose and the Steelers lose — along with any one of the Patriots, Bears, Lions or Chargers winning — the Raiders will make the postseason for only the second time since appearing in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.
Is that likely to happen? Frankly, no. Of the 64 possible scenarios that can shake out the AFC’s playoff seeding, the Raiders are only the No. 6 seed in four of them (4.4 percent).
But they play the games because many times the improbable happens. With that in mind, here are three things to watch for on Sunday.
1. How will Derek Carr handle cold?
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has struggled when temperatures fall below 50 degrees, and his numbers are even worse when the temperature is below 40. Carr and the Raiders have lost their last nine games with a temperature below 50. And Carr is 0-5 with four touchdowns and six interceptions when temperatures are below 40.
Sunday’s temperature in Denver are forecast to be in the mid- to high 30s.
Running back Josh Jacobs was declared out on Saturday, which means Carr needs to be that much more effective Sunday.
Carr said this week that the narrative about his performance in the cold used to bother him but it doesn’t any longer. But if Carr does not play well in Denver, that narrative will continue to follow him.
2. Can defense contain rookie QB?
Quarterback Drew Lock has provided a solid spark for the Broncos, who have gone 3-1 since he took over as the club’s starting quarterback. Lock has completed 65 percent of his passes for 843 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions — good for a 89.4 passer rating.
He’s only averaging 210.8 yards per game, but his performance against Houston in Week 14 showed that he can be effective as a passer. In that 38-24 win, Lock completed 22 of 27 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. He’s also been sacked only three times in four starts, which says something about his protection and ability to get rid of the football.
The Raiders had trouble with another rookie quarterback two weeks ago in Gardner Minshew. They’ll have to contain Lock to have a shot to win.
3. What’s happening in other games?
When it comes to a potential postseason berth, the Raiders have maintained throughout the week that they’re solely focusing on trying to win their own game. That makes sense — the only thing they can control at this point is making sure they don’t eliminate themselves by losing to a division rival.
But for the rest of us, the scores of the other games matter. The Raiders will know whether or not they have the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Steelers by kickoff in Denver. That’s likely to happen — the Bears (7-8) are facing the Vikings (10-5), who are likely to rest starters. And the Patriots (12-3) need to defeat the Dolphins (4-11) in order to clinch a first-round bye.
Then the Steelers (8-7) vs. Ravens (13-2), Titans (8-7) vs. Texans (10-5) and Colts (7-8) vs. Jaguars (5-10) all kick off at 1:25 p.m. PT. Baltimore already has announced its plan to rest starters. And if the favored Chiefs defeat the Chargers in the early window, the Texans will have nothing to play for and could rest their starters, too.
So it is unlikely that the Raiders will get the help they need to make the postseason. But there is still a chance, and all the games should be fun to monitor.