Sunday’s game sees the 2-3 Oakland Raiders travel to face the 2-4 San Diego Chargers in an AFC West clash. With the Chiefs struggling without Jamaal Charles, both the Raiders and Chargers have a huge opportunity to become second-best in the West.
The Raiders have been one of this year’s surprises. They have played better than many thought they would, beating the Ravens and the Browns despite losing to Cincinnati, Chicago, and Denver. It isn’t a stretch to see the Raiders finishing third or better in the AFC West.
Meanwhile the Chargers have been slightly disappointing. They sit at 2-4 and have missed opportunities to win games. They lost by just one score in their losses against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay after beating the Lions and Browns. Their one drubbing came on the road at the hands of the Vikings in a 31-14 loss.
Three Keys to the Game
Which defense will play the best? Both teams have struggled defensively this season. The Chargers have given up at least 24 points in every game so far. Oakland haven’t given up as many points in most contests, but allowed 33 points to the Bengals and Ravens in consecutive weeks. The Chargers are ranked better in terms of yards allowed, and the Raiders have been the league’s worst defense against the pass. Which bodes well for Phillip Rivers, who threw for 503 yards against Green Bay last week. But the Chargers have allowed 10 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. The Raiders have allowed eight touchdowns with five interceptions.
Melvin Gordon: Gordon has been a big disappointment this season. Drafted to give the Chargers balance on offense, Gordon has failed to deliver, and as a result, Rivers has been forced to average 42 passing attempts per game. The Chargers rank 29th in rushing offense, despite being first in both total offense and passing yards. The Raiders have the league’s third-best defense against the run, allowing just 83.2 yards per game and three touchdowns. Gordon will fail to be a factor on Sunday.
Supporting casts: In a shootout, which is what this game is likely to be, having the most weapons matters. Both teams have strong supporting casts around their quarterbacks. Derek Carr has made a huge jump in his second year thanks to first round pick Amari Cooper and veteran receiver Michael Crabtree. But Rivers has a better cast, with Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Michael Floyd and receiving back Danny Woodhead. However, Carr has a good running game with Latavius Murray in the backfield. The Chargers have allowed opposing backs to average 5.4 yards per carry, the worst in the league. San Diego has also allowed 132.5 yards per game; 29th in the league. If the Raiders can get the running game going, they could spring an upset.
Matchup to watch
Derek Carr vs Philip Rivers: Both quarterbacks are clearly the centrepieces of their teams. So which one will have the most success on Sunday? Rivers has the better supporting cast, but Carr has a much better offensive line. Rivers has been sacked 17 times, while Carr has only suffered seven. But Rivers is the only quarterback in the league to have thrown for over 2000 yards so far. The closest challenger is Andy Dalton on 1761.
Oakland to win: In what should be a close game, the Raiders could pull off a huge upset if they can get to Rivers. With a much better running game and better protection from his offensive line, Derek Carr can succeed against San Diego’s defense. But don’t count out Rivers if he has enough time to exploit his cast of weapons.