Survivor Series 2016: A creative crossroads for the WWE

For the 30th time in the company's history, WWE takes over Thanksgiving week with its annual Survivor Series pay-per-view -- and this year's edition offers no shortage of star power.

Former WCW champion Goldberg makes his first appearance in a WWE ring since 2004, as he faces off with a familiar foe in Brock Lesnar in the main event at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.

In a nod to its original format, the WWE will also roll out three traditional Survivor Series elimination tag team matches, and this time all three will pit members of the Raw and SmackDown Live brands against each other. The most important matches of the six-bout card, however, at least in the long term, just might come in a pair of inter-promotional title bouts. Both the intercontinental and cruiserweight championships are on the line, and the result in either match could alter the landscape of the current brand extension.

Let's take a closer look at what's at stake in each matchup heading into Sunday.

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

There have been plenty of highs and lows in the buildup to this grudge match, from Goldberg's emotional return on the Oct. 17 episode of Raw in Denver to the botched (and abandoned) promo from Lesnar and Paul Heyman one week later in Minneapolis.

But through it all, WWE has stuck to its guns in building this feud without having the two combatants make physical contact with each other -- and that's gone a long way towards retaining the element of must-see curiosity as to exactly what this match will look like.

Goldberg is not only 12 years removed from his last match, he's one month shy of turning 50. Fans caught a glimpse of the kind of shape he's is in during Monday's go-home episode of Raw, when he tore off his shirt to manhandle a group of security guards. Two weeks earlier, he stumbled while brawling with Rusev before lifting up the "Bulgarian Brute" and delivering his patented jackhammer move.

It's difficult to know, however, exactly what to expect outside of the assumption that it will be physical. Goldberg said as much during multiple interviews on ESPN platforms, going as far as admitting he fully expects to be in the hospital after the match.

Goldberg feasted on squash matches during his initial rise in WCW and was never considered a great worker. In fact, he was booed out of the building during his last WWE match -- a WrestleMania XX victory over Lesnar -- due to the crowd's knowledge that both were set to leave the company. But he's consistently trained in various disciplines of martial arts since his 2004 departure, and he'll likely implement those stiff and realistic strikes into his move set come Sunday.

As far as what happens in the match, it likely depends upon Goldberg's true intentions moving forward. He told ESPN.com in October that this is a "one-time" appearance, and yet he showed interest in the idea of Sunday's match evolving into future opportunities.

It's logical to expect that Lesnar, still a top draw for WWE in his part-time role at 39, would go over. The recent history of ex-WCW stars making nostalgic returns only to job out (see Sting at WrestleMania 31) supports this theory. But if Goldberg has plans to extend his comeback to WrestleMania 33 next April, an upset victory isn't entirely out of the question.

It all depends, of course, on how well Goldberg looks and feels on Sunday. For a performer so reliant upon intimidation and physicality, it's fair to question whether he can channel enough of "the Goldberg of old" without looking too much like an "old Goldberg."

No one ever said playing fantasy booker with a 49-year-old this far removed from his most recent match was an exact science.

Men's 5-on-5 elimination match: Raw vs. SmackDown Live

(Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins for Raw; AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and Shane McMahon for SmackDown)

WWE has done a decent job of building anticipation for this classic Survivor Series style match, despite the fact that nothing tangible is at stake outside of promotional bragging rights (and stern warnings not to fail from Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon and SmackDown legend The Undertaker).

The timing of The Undertaker's return on Tuesday was an interesting wrinkle in this one. Not only did he cryptically announce his return to active duty beyond just an annual WrestleMania appearance, one has to assume the seeds for his next feud will be planted during this match.

Chris Jericho certainly teased as much with a tweet he sent out in the early morning hours after SmackDown Live. But outside of The Undertaker's presence, there are plenty of storylines to keep a close eye on within this match.

Is SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon's involvement in this match more about drawing eyeballs, or is it a strategic opportunity to escalate his sibling rivalry with sister Stephanie (and by proxy, his brother-in-law Triple H)? How might SmackDown "mascot" James Ellsworth's presence affect the ongoing feud between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose? And what happens with the brewing Shield reunion between Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, especially in a match against Ambrose?

Whichever brand ends up winning the match is likely inconsequential. The real intrigue surrounds which superstar will get the biggest push as the "sole survivor". Considering the time put into his recent push as a solo act, Braun Strowman, who will likely face off at some point against former teammate Bray Wyatt, could prove to be a wild card in this regard.

Women's 5-on-5 elimination match: Raw vs. SmackDown Live

(Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Nia Jax, Alicia Fox and Sasha Banks for Raw; Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Naomi for SmackDown)

This match offers an interesting contrast between the depth of SmackDown's team and the top-heavy star power on Raw. Outside of that dynamic, there hasn't been much of a storyline in the buildup (not to mention much at stake in the match).

Tuesday's go-home episode of SmackDown featured a run-in from the Raw team, as all five members emerged from the crowd to take down Nikki Bella before the cavalry arrived to even things out. But the sequence demanded a sizable suspension of disbelief, as we saw uber-babyface Bayley take part in a 5-on-1 stomping, which took something away from the overall moment.

One thing was certain from the melee: Even though Becky Lynch is the SmackDown champion, Bella remains the brand's biggest draw, and seeing the rekindling of her rivalry with Raw champion Charlotte was a fun wrinkle. Bella, who has been stuck playing the role of helpless babyface in an underwhelming feud with Carmella of late, may not need a belt to justify her star status, but the rub that comes with being the "sole survivor" surely wouldn't hurt her cause in this case.

10-on-10 tag team elimination match: Raw vs. SmackDown Live

(The New Day, Sheamus & Cesaro, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Enzo Amore & Big Cass and The Shining Stars for Raw; Heath Slater & Rhyno, The Hype Bros, American Alpha, The Usos and Breezango for SmackDown)

The ring apron will be as crowded as ever for this one, which should provide a nostalgic visual to the early days of Survivor Series. From there, it will be interesting to see how bitter enemies coexist on the same team, with plenty of potential for spinoffs into new feuds.

The ongoing feud between Gallows & Anderson and Enzo & Big Cass has been hot, and it's conceivable that their hatred for each other could lead to Raw's demise. The New Day's loss on the go-home Raw proved some more vulnerability as well, but if we're looking at it with a traditional booking approach, they'll persevere at Survivor Series.

It's hard to say exactly what kind of positives can come from this match, but the team that could undoubtedly benefit most from the push of being "sole survivors" would be American Alpha, which saw what should have been a hot feud with The Usos curiously put on the back burner of late.

WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs. Sami Zayn

In terms of WWE's immediate future within its current brand extension, this is the most important match on Sunday's card. The stipulation in place is that if Sami Zayn wins, the title comes with him back to the Raw brand.

The Miz's surprise victory over Dolph Ziggler on Tuesday, earning him his sixth career intercontinental title reign, added a late wrinkle to this one and shouldn't rob too much from its potential to steal the show on Sunday inside the ring. What's most intriguing in this case, however, is what happens after the match.

There's been enough teasing in recent weeks from SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan that a trade of Miz to the Raw brand was possible. Considering Raw's inconsistent run of late in the court of public opinion from fans, the addition of a great talker like The Miz could certainly help matters.

Should he lose the belt to the very deserving Zayn, who's floundered since a seemingly career-altering victory over Owens in July, it would put the intercontinental title back on Raw. Without the lingering value of holding the title, it wouldn't be inconceivable at that point to see The Miz follow him to Monday nights. Just the same, there has been equal chatter of late from Bryan on "Talking Smack" about how unhappy both Zayn and Cesaro are on Raw, and that he would welcome seeing at least one of them head to "the land of opportunity" that is SmackDown; even in a loss, and maybe especially so, Zayn could use a fresh start.

However it ends up playing out, a minor shakeup of the rosters just four months into the brand split could go a long way in keeping things fresh as things closer to the Royal Rumble and the start of WrestleMania season.

WWE cruiserweight championship: The Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto

This match also features a potentially landscape-changing stipulation, wherein if Kalisto wins, both the title and the entire cruiserweight division would follow him back to the SmackDown brand.

In a way, WWE may have already tipped its hand as to the result of this match, thanks to the recent announcement that "205 Live", a new cruiserweight-exclusive show debuting Nov. 29, will be filmed in the same arena each week as SmackDown Live on Tuesday nights.

Despite the top-shelf heel work in recent months from Brian Kendrick, who captured the title from inaugural champion TJ Perkins last month at Hell in a Cell, Kalisto appears made for the cruiserweight division and could do well as its face.