DENVER -- When the Broncos began the season with four straight losses, they were not making the playoffs. How they have responded to adversity has created optimism about the future. They are 6-5 over the last 11 games, and have won three times in December for the first time since 2014. Triumph Sunday -- "If they win? You mean when they win," Broncos legend Steve Atwater told me on Denver7 -- and the Broncos finish with a winning record at home for the first time since 2016.
And oh yeah, walk off with a victory and the Broncos clobber the Raiders' postseason dreams. So on a refrigerated Sunday, there is meaning. My Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory:
Let down hair, go to the air
Drew Lock has caffeinated the Broncos offense. Denver is averaging 23 points a game in his four starts. Of the 15 teams averaging that mark this season, 12 are in the playoffs or have a chance to qualify. Lock has shown he will adjust. He has alternated from gunslinger to game manager. Sunday, it's time to let it loose. The Raiders allow 262 yards per game in the air, and their 32 touchdowns yielded ranks third worst. There will be chances to make chunk plays.
Lock has shown patience, spreading the ball around. It brought life to DaeSean Hamilton's season last week. But the Raiders don't have the personnel to take Courtland Sutton out of the picture. He has averaged only four catches for 57 yards over the past four games. The Broncos need more against this Raiders secondary. It sets up for Sutton to finish his breakthrough campaign with his third 100-yard game this season.
Phillip Lindsay sits 42 yards shy of making history. He aims to become the first undrafted player to reach 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his first two seasons. Lindsay is coming off his second 100-yard game this year. He told me he wants to become a better receiver and route runner this offseason to earn the coaches' trust in the passing game. Still, he continues to show courage to run through darkness between the tackles. Lindsay is more team first than first team and admitted the honor would be special because of what it would mean in terms of optimism for the franchise's future.
Carr in the Cold
When you open your mouth on Sunday, a light will come on. It will be refrigerator cold. Derek Carr is 0-4 in games played under 40 degrees. Denver7's Mike Nelson projects a 32-degree high. So the Broncos need Carr to feel the heat. Pressure up the middle from Dre'Mont Jones and Shelby Harris remains critical because of Carr's quick release times.
No Joshing around
Witih Josh Jacobs out, the Broncos have no excuse for not stopping the run. Jacobs had his way with the Broncos in the season opener. But the Broncos have been much better against ground attacks with nose tackle Mike Purcell and linebacker Alexander Johnson in the lineup.
No longer Home Alone
The Broncos might have around 9,000 no-shows again. It is a byproduct of four forgettable seasons. However, a 4-1 finish with certainty at quarterback will create a buzz entering next year. The Broncos have only qualified once for the playoffs with a losing home record (3-5 in 2011). Reclaiming home dominance is important and can carry over. Plus, the Raiders are vulnerable. They are 2-5 on the road, where they score 18 points per game.
Appreciate the moment
I never tell fans how to spend their money. But I will offer some advice. Appreciate Sunday because it could be the last game in a Broncos uniform for Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe. Justin Simmons will be a free agent as well. And there are no active talks with Simmons' reps, per sources. But the sides have had dialogue, and Denver can use the franchise tag on Simmons if necessary. Wolfe is sidelined by an elbow injury. Harris will play, and I expect him to play well. Both would prefer to retire as Broncos. That might not happen. So in case this is it, give each of the longtime terrific Broncos a tip of the cap in your own way.
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Raiders 18.