Win or lose on Christmas Eve, Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he plans to salute the insane and strange fans in the “Black Hole” after what figures to be the team’s final game in Oakland. It will be an emotional night and there might be a riot.
The Monday night spectacle will be more about the circus atmosphere than the teams. The Raiders’ season was lost from the start. The Denver Broncos blew their slim playoff chances by losing to Cleveland and San Francisco the past two weeks.
The Broncos, poorly coached and playing only to avoid a losing season, could be road favorites over few teams in the NFL. That’s how bad the Raiders, beat up on both sides of the ball, are right now.
Denver has a far more talented defense, with a fierce pass rush led by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The Broncos’ other edge will be hard-charging rookie running back Phillip Lindsay.
Emotion will be the Raiders’ biggest ally. Gruden will pump up his players for a special occasion, and he’ll need a special performance from Derek Carr, who has been playing better than public perception. Carr has 12 touchdown passes in the past eight games and has not thrown an interception since Oct. 7.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum has struggled all season (15 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and his situation got worse when Demaryius Thomas was traded and Emmanuel Sanders was lost to injury. Denver has scored 16 and 14 points in two games without Sanders.
If not for costly game-management mistakes by lame-duck coach Vance Joseph, the Broncos (6-8) easily could be 8-6 and already over their season win total of 7. But they are stumbling into the “Black Hole” at a bad time.
Gruden wants a goodbye win at the Oakland Coliseum sewer pit more than he wants the No. 1 draft pick. Put a black patch over one eye and play the three-win Raiders as 3-point ‘dogs.
Four more guesses for Week 16 (home team in CAPS):
* Giants (plus-10) over COLTS:
A week after getting shut out, Eli Manning is without Odell Beckham Jr. and facing a tough Indianapolis defense. When only a weak case can be made for the Giants, that’s usually the time to side with the Giants. The Colts, 7-1 since starting 1-5, are chasing a playoff spot behind the red-hot Andrew Luck. But this is a big number to lay — the line is 10 at several offshore books and probably will move from 9½ to 10 in Las Vegas before kickoff — against the Giants, who tend to show up and play their best on the road (6-0 ATS in their past six) for reasons unknown.
* EAGLES (-2) over Texans:
Left for dead not long ago, the Eagles have emerged from the graveyard and need more magic from Nick Foles. In one of the biggest upsets of the season, Philadelphia dominated the Rams as a double-digit underdog in L.A. Foles completed 24 of 31 passes for 270 yards and was not sacked. It was an impressive defensive performance by the Eagles, who led 30-13 after three quarters. Philadelphia fit the fallen star angle playing its first game without injured quarterback Carson Wentz. Still, the Eagles have been here before with Foles and clearly believe they can win with him, so it’s probably no fluke. Houston is 10-1 in its past 11 games, winning at least four coin-flip decisions along the way, and is the better team based strictly on numbers. But in a lackluster victory over the Jets last week, Deshaun Watson was sacked six times and the Houston defense failed to fluster rookie QB Sam Darnold. It’s not a positive spot for the Texans on the tail end of back-to-back road games.
* 49ERS (plus-4½) over Bears:
After statement wins against the Packers and Rams, maybe the Bears will get caught sleepwalking on the road. San Francisco was a home ‘dog in the same price range the past two weeks and upset the Seahawks and Broncos. The 49ers are playing hard for coach Kyle Shanahan, and quarterback Nick Mullens has put up much better numbers at home. This bet can cash if Chicago is coasting and loses focus.
* SEAHAWKS (plus-2) over Chiefs:
With the Chargers’ loss on Saturday, Kansas City is back in total control of the AFC West. The Chiefs (11-3) are 2-2 in their past four games, a record that could be worse if not for Patrick Mahomes pulling off a miracle in an overtime win against Baltimore on Dec. 9. Mahomes can probably secure the MVP award by putting up big numbers against the Seahawks, but a Sunday night game in Seattle is far from a simple task. The Seahawks (8-6) will be playing with urgency, too, after a costly loss at San Francisco put their postseason reservations on hold. It’s easy for bettors to be hypnotized by Mahomes and the Chiefs’ quick-strike offense, but look at both sides of the story. Seattle has the league’s top rushing offense (155 yards per game), and Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense and 26th against the run. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have the ability to play the ball-control game and keep Mahomes on the sideline. Beware of the home ‘dog.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread