KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego. TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots.
SERIES HISTORY: 114th meeting. Raiders lead all-time series, 61-50-2. Oakland has won the last three, including a 34-31 victory in Oakland on Oct. 9. In the last game in San Diego, the Raiders won 37-29 as Derek Carr completed 24 of 31 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Amari Cooper had five catches for 133 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown reception. The Raiders led 37-6 before the Chargers scored 23 points in the fourth quarter.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
If Chargers RBs Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon were in good health, the Chargers would spend most of the game running the ball, especially considering QB Philip Rivers is too much in the Christmas spirit.
Rivers threw three interceptions in a Week 14 loss to Carolina, and his 17 interceptions lead the NFL. He has been picked off 10 times in his last four games, the most in any four-game span in his career.
Hence the notion that the Chargers would run their talented backs against a bad Raiders rushing defense while Rivers is in his career slump. However, Woodhead has been out most the season and Gordon was injured last week while trying to fetch a Rivers fumble and was carried off the field three yards short of 1,000. Turns out Gordon’s hip injury isn’t as bad as feared, but he he is out for this game..
There is significant intrigue in the circumstance that puts the ball back in Rivers hands. In their first meeting, Rivers attacked the Raiders vertically and completed 21 of 30 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns. Tyrel Williams and Travis Benjamin each had more than 100 yards receiving.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are coming off a 21-13 loss at Kansas City which knocked them from the AFC’s top seed to No. 5 and ended conversation about QB Derek Carr becoming the league MVP.
Playing with a bad pinky on his throwing hand, Carr had his worst game as he was unable to take a direct snap over center and was in the shotgun the whole game.
Like the Chargers, the Raiders would probably prefer to pile the workload on the running backs; Oakland does have its top two threats, Latavius Murray and explosive Jalen Richard. One key to that strategy will be the return of left guard Keleche Osemele, who was a major missing cog at Kansas City when he was a late scratch due to kidney stones.
Each team has a significant defensive star. The Raiders feature DE Khalil Mack, a sackmaster who in the last 10 games has 11 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. The Chargers have rookie DE Joey Bosa, who made his NFL debut against the Raiders with two sacks. He returned to full practice Wednesday after injuring his neck last Sunday tackling Panthers QB Cam Newton.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Chargers OTs King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack. Mack is on a tear that could result in AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He has had sacks in eight consecutive games and. He will be coming at Rivers from both sides at one time or another, meaning Dunlap on the left and Barksdale on the right will be tested, as well as chip blocking from fullback Derek Watt and tight end Sean McGrath.
–Raiders WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree vs. Chargers secondary. CB Brandon Flowers went on IR this week, joining fellow starter Jason Verrett. DB Craig Mager, who had moved into a starting role, is also ailing. But the Raiders won’t feel sorry for the Chargers as they take aim at the defense’s soft underbelly. CB Casey Hayward, who leads the NFL with seven interceptions, figures to track Cooper. That leaves Crabtree free to abuse second- and third-string pass defenders. The key is getting a pass rush on Derek Carr, or it will be a long day for the Chargers.
FRIDAY TEAM REPORT:
–Out: LB Shilique Calhoun (knee), S Karl Joseph (toe), DT Stacy McGee (ankle)
–Questionable: WR Amari Cooper (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (finger), DE Darius Latham (ankle), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Perry Riley (hamstring), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring)
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
–Out: RB Melvin Gordon (hip, knee)
–Doubtful: CB Craig Mager (shoulder)
–Questionable: WR Jeremy Butler (ankle), G Orlando Franklin (rib)
Raiders SS Nate Allen. He led the Raiders with eight tackles while subbing for injured rookie starter Karl Joseph against Kansas City. Joseph is not expected to play at San Diego. Allen signed before the 2015 season to start at safety, but he was affected by injuries. When Joseph had a case of turf toe against Buffalo, Allen was in for 44 snaps — after playing only eight snaps all season. He has been a core special teams player all year, other than missing two games with a quadriceps injury.
Raiders QB Derek Carr has thrown for 12 TDs and two interceptions in his last seven games. In 45 games, Carr has 77 touchdown passes, an average of 1.71 per game. That’s better than his idol, Brett Favre, (508 TDs in 302 games) at 1.68 and slightly behind Dan Marino (420 in 242) at 1.74. Peyton Manning averaged 2.02 and Tom Brady is at 1.92.
The Chargers have an option in place to move in with the Los Angeles Rams when the new stadium is finished, according to the NFL. “I’m not going to make any decisions until after the first of the year,” Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers has passed for 1,478 yards and 12 TDs, with four interceptions, in the last five meetings.
Chargers CB Casey Hayward leads the NFL with seven interceptions and 18 passes defensed.
Two outstanding quarterbacks trying to come back from recent disasters. Regardless of the disparity in their records, this has the makings of another great war between long-time AFC West rivals.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 38-32.
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Oakland Raiders vs San Diego Chargers: prediction, preview, pick to win