What to watch for in Broncos-Raiders on 'MNF'

We've reached the end.

The final stanza of this year's Monday Night Football dance card, a slate that peaked with November's mega-thriller between the Chiefs and Rams and -- real talk -- bottoms out this evening when the eliminated Broncos confront the wandering Raiders.

Here's what we'll be watching for:

  1. Grim storylines surround this swan-song affair, with Broncos coach Vance Joseph draped in whispers of his impending dismissal. The second-year hire has seen his area of expertise -- the defense -- fall off a cliff in a rash of statistical categories. The offense has been ravaged by injury, too, while football czar John Elway failed to find Joseph a game-changing quarterback. With an 11-19 record over two seasons, are the Broncos due for a top-to-bottom reboot?
  1. Changes are on the way, but Elway deserves credit for churning out one of this year's finest class of rookies.

It starts with pass-rushing wonder Bradley Chubb, who has fully delivered on the promise of his first-round pedigree and holds a shot to make history on Monday night. With 12 sacks on the year, Chubb sits within striking distance of Jevon Kearse's rookie-record of 14.5 takedowns set with the Titans in 1999.

While Chubb is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Broncos have a name up for offensive honors as well in Phillip Lindsay, the undrafted running back who ranks fifth in rushing yards (991) and second in yards per carry (5.5). Numbers aside, the Broncos found someone special in Lindsay, who gallops with a whirling fury and -- having been ignored by all 32 teams -- has put the league's entire draft process on blast.

Denver has also netted significant help through the air from rookie wideout Courtland Sutton (35/614/3 on the year), while first-year runner Royce Freeman (106/440/5) has served as an acceptable spell-back to Lindsay.

  1. The Broncos feel bound for a dash of offseason drama, but the Raiders have them beat. The Silver and Black sit on the receiving end of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by the city of Oakland to recover damages surrounding the team's upcoming move to Las Vegas. Slated to move to Nevada in 2020, the Raiders are without a signed lease for next season.

Translation: Tonight could mark the final time this historic franchise plays a home game in Oakland.

The club's 2019 destination is a mystery and one of the more tangled NFL scenarios to unfold in eons. The Raiders might ultimately wind up for one more hyper-awkward year at the Coliseum; share Levi's Stadium with the Niners; float south to San Diego for a season; or, as whispers suggest, even spend next autumn playing their home games in London. By NFL standards, this situation is nothing short of wild.

  1. On the field, the Raiders have operated as a white-hot disaster, openly planning for the future by trading away stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. We're well briefed on those lever-pulls, but it's a knock on coach Jon Gruden that Cooper morphed into one of the season's top pass-catchers after Oakland couldn't figure out how to flip the switch. Without Mack chasing down quarterbacks, the Raiders have just 12 sacks on the year, on pace to become their fewest takedowns in a single season in franchise history.
  1. Flipping positive, Oakland showed promise two weeks ago in a 24-21 win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh habitually stumbles on the West Coast, but that game offered some of the best work yet from Derek Carr, who also battled well against the Chiefs in Week 13. Lost inside an ugly year for the organization, Carr has kept turnovers to a minimum, throwing 12 touchdowns and not a single pick since Week 5. He's helped tonight by the absence of star Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, lost for the year with a fractured fibula. Carr's weekly issue, though, is protection, with the Raiders allowing the third-most sacks league-wide (48). You can't watch an Oakland game without seeing Carr blasted to the turf. He keeps getting back up, though, and marches tonight into a skirmish featuring Chubb and All-Pro quarterback destroyer Von Miller on the other side of the ball.
  1. The Broncos aren't the same on offense since losing wideouts Emmanuel Sanders to injury and Demaryius Thomas to a trade, leaving mezzanine-level Case Keenum to fling passes to Sutton, fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton and second-year wideout Tim Patrick. The hope tonight is that Lindsay bounces back after being held to 24 rushing yards last week against the Browns after San Francisco kept him to 30 in Week 14.
  1. It's Christmas Eve, so let's make this final date with Booger a winner: When you invariably find yourself among a gaggle of friends and loved ones -- with this Monday night tilt crooning in the background -- locate the television controller and hide it in on your person. Step 1 complete.

Step 2: As well-adjusted adults sip eggnog and discuss their portfolios -- totally ignoring the broadcast -- progressively turn up the volume from across the room. Just a little bit every minute or so. Apply subtlety.

Step 3: When the time is ripe, go for the throat with one final jacking of the volume before you fade into conversation with cousin Wendell about Hong Kong steel futures. Refuse to react as agitated gatherers ask how this low-level football game is suddenly booming on level 64 when nobody is watching it. Don't overreact, but press into your chat with Wendell.

Step 4: Once the volume is returned to manageable levels by a take-control-alpha relative, let the room breathe for 10 minutes. Then rinse and repeat. Then do it again. And again. You will never forget this low-level gridiron tussle for the rest of your life if you execute this prank with patience and resolve.

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