November 26, 2020
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The Chargers’ Thunder Alley will be welcoming the Black Hole and the Las Vegas Raiders to SoFi Stadium for the first time. Photo by Glenn Marshall.


By Jeremy Gonzalez, Sports Editor

Las Vegas Raiders vs. Los Angeles Chargers. FOX, 1:05 p.m. 

SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif. 

Raiders record: 4-3, 2nd in AFC West. NFL Power Ranking: 13

Las Vegas turned back the clock and played some smash mouth football last week, running with authority and hit hard on defense in a 16-6 win in rainy and windy Cleveland over the Browns. Josh Jacobs led the way with 128 rushing yards on 31 carries. 

Chargers record: 2-5, 4th in AFC West. NFL Power Ranking: 19

Los Angeles blew a 24-3 second half lead in a heartbreaking 31-30 loss to the Denver Broncos last week. The Chargers are now just 3-14 in games decided by eight or fewer points dating back to last season. 

The Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers are set to face off in a big AFC West showdown this Sunday that could very well define both teams as they prepare to enter the final stretch of the regular season. 

Consider this: Las Vegas already has a big division win in hand with a 40-32 defeat of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 11. And running the table against the Chargers, Denver Broncos, and Chiefs again over the next couple of weeks would set the Raiders up nicely for a postseason run. 

Meanwhile, the Chargers have struggled when facing an AFC West rival, losing their last eight games in the division, which ties the Detroit Lions for the longest current losing streak when playing division games. Their most recent blunder came last week when they blew a 21-point lead to the Broncos and lost on the final play of regulation

A win for the Chargers could put the team back on track and give them more confidence as they claw their way back to compete for a wild card spot. But a loss against another division rival could sink the team into a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse. 

The Raiders lead the series against the Chargers 65-54-2, most recently completing a season sweep of the Chargers last year. Las Vegas came away with a 24-17 win the last time they were in Los Angeles and will be hoping to grab another win this Sunday. The Chargers are hoping to break out of their division slump and grab a much-needed victory. Here’s how the two quarterbacks stack up ahead of their Week 9 matchup along with some other things to keep an eye on for Sunday’s clash: 

IN THE POCKET

When Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was an analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” he was known for his enthusiastic reviews of players during his nine seasons in the broadcast booth. And although Gruden walks the sidelines now, that hasn’t changed the way he sees exciting players. 

Gruden had high praise for Los Angeles Chargers rookie sensation Justin Herbert, who the Raiders will face for the first time on Sunday. Gruden said the Raiders met with Herbert during the NFL scouting combine and that he’s eager for his defense to go against him. 

“This guy’s the real deal,” Gruden said in a media conference. “He’s a problem for everybody in the AFC. He’s further along than most rookies. He’s shown the ability to throw the ball in the tight windows. He’s made athletic plays and shown great toughness.” 

Herbert is averaging an AFC-best 303.3 passing yards per game and has thrown at least three touchdowns in four straight games. But his strong performances have not directly translated to wins because the Chargers defense can’t hold onto a lead. Teammates have credited Herbert for being relaxed but the rookie is frustrated about only having one win in six starts. 

“If anyone thinks this doesn’t bother me at all, they’re wrong,” Herbert said. “I take a lot of pride in this team. All we can do now is go forward. The Raiders disguise a lot of things pretty well on defense. So it’s another tough challenge for us.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been off to an impressive start of his own. The veteran signal-caller has a 110.2 passer rating, best through the first seven games in his seven-year career. He is the third-most accurate QB since the start of last season with a 70.3% completion rate. 

Their 4-3 mark is the first time since they made the playoffs in 2016 that they have been over .500 at this point of the season. Carr’s last outing against the Chargers on the road ended with 291 passing yards and one TD. 

The two quarterbacks under center for Los Angeles and Las Vegas have been playing exceptionally well, making Sunday’s chess match even more entertaining to watch. 

NO HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE

In the past seasons, whenever the Raiders have faced the Chargers, whether it was in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium or at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, the turnout of Raiders fans was overwhelming, giving the presence that maybe it was a home game for the Raiders rather than the Chargers. The Raiders still have a large fanbase in Los Angeles from their 13 years in LA (1982-94). The Las Vegas Raiders make their first trip to SoFi Stadium, playing in an empty stadium as no fans are allowed inside. 

The Raiders attempted to partner with the Chargers about returning to Los Angeles before the NFL chose Stan Kroenke’s stadium plan in Inglewood. The Raiders then got their stadium deal in Las Vegas while the Chargers elected to be the second Los Angeles team inside of SoFi Stadium. For the first time in a very long time, the field at a Chargers-Raiders game might feel balanced now. Speaking of which…

ALL ABOUT BALANCE

The Chargers got a solid outing from their running game last week, which produced 210 yards on the ground in Denver. The run game might find it hard to replicate the effort from last week against Las Vegas. 

Justin Jackson ran for a career-high 89 yards and has now had three straight games over 50 scrimmage yards. Troymaine Pope added 67 rushing yards for the Bolts but is questionable due to being in the concussion protocol. Rookie Joshua Kelley ranks fifth among all rookie running backs with 374 scrimmage yards, but has fumbled twice in the last three games. 

Look for the Chargers to try and establish the running game early against a mediocre Raiders run defense that ranks 14th in the NFL. A strong run game early can take some pressure off Herbert, who has been tasked with carrying the offense with his arm since he took over as the starter for the team. 

VEGAS LINE

Opening: Los Angeles is listed as the favorite. Line: -1.0. Total: 53.5

Saturday evening: Los Angeles is listed as the favorite. Line: -1.0. Total: 52.0. 

The Lightning Rod pick: The good old-fashioned AFC West rivalry will not disappoint on Sunday. Carr and Herbert will go toe-to-toe, with both quarterbacks throwing for 300-plus yards and two touchdowns. The difference will be the running game, where Josh Jacobs will shine for Las Vegas and have another big day while the Chargers running game will struggle to help Herbert on offense. The Bolts defense will have another long day ahead of them on Sunday, especially since DE Joey Bosa (concussion) is doubtful for the game. 

Raiders 27, Chargers 21. 

The Lightning Rod 2020 record: 3-2

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