By Jeremy Gonzalez, Sports Editor
Chargers v. Raiders. 5:20 p.m. RingCentral Coliseum. Oakland, Calif. Fox.
Chargers record: 4-5. The Chargers defeated the NFC powerhouse Green Bay Packers at home 26-11 last week. The team held Aaron Rodgers to 161 passing yards.
Raiders record: 4-4. The Raiders made a red zone stop on the final possession to secure a 31-24 win against the Detroit Lions at home.
From his first career start in 2006 to astonishing comebacks and awful defeats, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has had his fair share of experiences against the Raiders inside the Oakland Coliseum.
Rivers and the Chargers will play their final game against each other at the Coliseum on Thursday night. This game is crucial for both teams’ playoff aspirations as both are fighting for a wildcard spot in the AFC. One of these teams could emerge as a last minute threat to the division champion Kansas City Chiefs, but with Patrick Mahomes returning from injury, the Chiefs likely have the division title locked up.
With both teams on a short week, it will be interesting to see how the banged up rosters prepare for the primetime showdown.
In the Pocket
Rivers has dominated the Oakland Raiders in his time with the Chargers. In his 13 visits to the Coliseum, he has won nine of those visits while throwing 24 touchdowns in those games. In last season’s visit to Oakland, Rivers completed 18 of 26 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and one interception en route to a convincing 20-6 victory.
Rivers has been the one constant in an up-and-down season for the Chargers. He currently leads the NFL with 2,609 passing yards and came off a solid performance against a top team in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers, where he had a new offensive coordinator.
Even with a new coordinator calling the plays, Rivers was in control and the Chargers offense looked balanced for once, leading Rivers to throw for nearly 300 yards and while the running backs produced a season-high 159 rushing yards against the Packers.
Wearing the silver and black, Derek Carr has seen his career rejuvenated in Jon Gruden’s second season. Carr has seen various coaches and offensive coordinators come and go in Oakland. The one season where Carr had the same coordinator return to the team for a second season, he produced an MVP-caliber season before getting injured.
Carr looks extremely comfortable in year two of Gruden’s system, flirting with Drew Brees’ record of the highest completion percentage in a season. He has completed 71.2 percent of his passes this season, leading the NFL. In last week’s home game against the Lions, Carr threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Expect the primetime showdown to be a chess match as Rivers and Carr try and dissect the opposing defense. This is one quarterback matchup that will not disappoint the fans in attendance or the fans watching on TV.
Running Game Battle
The Chargers found their consistency in the run game last week against the Packers. Los Angeles ran wild against Green Bay, rushing for a season-high 159 yards and averaged more than four yards per carry for the first time since Week 4.
Melvin Gordon had 80 yards on 20 carries, his best game since returning from his two-month hold out. Gordon has produced monster games against the Raiders, having four straight games with 120 scrimmage yards or more, along with five touchdowns in that span.
Austin Ekeler continues to be effective for the Chargers, with six games of 90 scrimmage yards or more. Ekeler lead NFL running backs in receptions (55) and receiving yards (530).
The Raiders have an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate running for them in Josh Jacobs. He ranks third in the AFC with 740 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and is among the top five in the league averaging 92.5 rushing yards per game. He has looked like a veteran running back behind the Oakland offensive line and has taken pressure off from Carr while bringing balance to the Oakland offense.
Jacobs rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Lions. Both teams will try and establish the run game early to take control of the game.
The Chargers pass rush duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa has lived up to expectations. Bosa has been reminding everyone why he is one of the league’s premier pass rushers, racking up five and a half sacks in his last three games and ranks second in the AFC with eight and a half this season.
Bosa and Ingram will face a tough challenge this week as they attempt to sack Carr. The Raiders dominant offensive line, along with Carr’s quick release and awareness, have led Carr to being the least sacked quarterback in the NFL, according to ESPN.
However, Oakland’s offensive line is dealing with injuries that leave questions about who will be available. Trent Brown, the team’s starting right tackle, left last week’s game with a knee injury. Center Rodney Hudson missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle. Both players’ statuses for the divisional showdown are unknown.
The battle of the Raiders offensive line and Chargers pass rush will be one to keep an eye on all night and could prove to be the difference in the game’s final result.
After spending his first four seasons with the Chargers, wide receiver Tyrell Williams signed with the Raiders this offseason and is ready to join the AFC West rivalry from the other side now.
Williams was set to be the No. 2 receiver alongside Antonio Brown, but since Brown’s release two days before the home opener, Williams has seen a bigger role in the offense. He has 23 catches for 355 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games with a foot injury.
Williams will likely garner the attention of Chargers No. 1 cornerback Casey Hayward in most plays. The Chargers secondary is also not operating at full strength as both starting safeties are out. With Hayward shadowing Williams, other targets like rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller will have more opportunities to carve up the Chargers banged up secondary.
Opening: OAK. pK. 48.0 total.
Wednesday night: LAC. -1.5. 48.5 total.
The Lightning Rod pick: Both teams are desperate for a win to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. In this rivalry, the records and standings never mean much because both teams want to emerge victorious. In the final chapter in Oakland, Carr will outduel Rivers at the Coliseum on a night where both offenses find their rhythm. Raiders tight end Darren Waller will explode for a 100-yard game and take advantage of the Chargers secondary. Los Angeles will rush for 100+ yards and sack Carr three times on the night, but the effort will ultimately come up short against the Raiders.
Chargers 28, Raiders 31.