Raiders-Broncos finale represents a role reversal
DENVER — Spoiler is an unfamiliar role for Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr., who get to see what it’s like to play for nothing but pride Sunday when the Denver Broncos host the Oakland Raiders.
The Broncos (8-7) were eliminated from playoff contention last week, so they won’t get a chance to defend their Super Bowl 50 title.
“It’ll definitely be weird,” Harris said. “It’s different playing a game for nothing, really.”
And heading into the offseason so early.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Miller said. “I called some of my buddies that never made the playoffs and I’m like, ‘What do you all normally do around this time?”
The Raiders (12-3) know all too well what it’s like to play for pride rather than playoff positioning before beginning an extended offseason. They went 13 years without even a winning record since losing the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.
They’re headed to the postseason party for the first time since then, but they’ll be without Derek Carr after losing their star quarterback to a broken right leg last week. Backup Matt McGloin will lead them instead.
The Broncos still own the league’s best secondary and premier pass rush, but both were neutralized by slow starts and poor play in the trenches that spelled an end to their five-year reign atop the AFC West.
“When teams don’t have to throw at me and (Aqib) Talib or have Von pinning his ears back to rush, it kind of takes away what we do,” Harris said. “We’re definitely built to stop the pass more than the run, and it definitely showed this year.”
Oakland needs a win Sunday to secure the division crown and a first-round bye. If the Raiders stumble, they could fall all the way to the fifth seed and have to hit the road for the AFC playoffs as a wild card.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak plans to play both of his young quarterbacks . Trevor Siemian is coming off his worst game — 17 for 43 for 183 yards — at Kansas City, where the unflappable second-year pro looked rattled for the first time all season.
So did raw rookie Paxton Lynch in his last start, a 20-10 win at Jacksonville a month ago that marks Denver’s only victory after hitting the bye week sitting pretty at 7-3.
“I think Trevor deserves the right to go back out there as a starter,” Kubiak said. “He’s done a lot of good things this year. He’s a young player that needs to keep going. I want him to get the Kansas City taste out of his mouth. It was a tough outing.
“Paxton is also going to play. I’m preparing both and you’ll see them both in the game.”
Other story lines in this role reversal:
SLOW STARTS: The Broncos’ 33 first-quarter points are lowest in the league and include just one sustained TD drive. That ineptitude defanged their 143 fourth-quarter points and 110 points off turnovers — both NFL highs. Denver has trailed 48 percent of the time this season after playing from behind 27 percent of the time last year. So, teams quit testing their cornerbacks but targeted tight ends and backs instead.
MONSTER MILLER: The Broncos have 10 or fewer points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1966. That’s kept Miller, the MVP of last year’s Super Bowl, stuck at 13½ sacks. He’s still a leading contender for Defensive Player of the Year because of his stellar all-around play and ability to beat double- and even triple-teams whenever QBs did have to drop back.
MILLER VS. MACK: Oakland coach Jack Del Rio worked with Miller as Denver’s defensive coordinator and now has an elite pass rusher in Khalil Mack, who has 11 sacks. “They’re similar in that they’re both disruptive,” Del Rio said, noting Mack is heavier than Miller.
“Von’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that can look like Gumby going around a corner and an inch off the ground and still be going at full speed,” Del Rio said.