Hmmm… the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers. Oh man, I wonder if there is any animosity between these two teams?
If you recall, in their final game of last year the two teams both came in with 9-7 records and fighting for their playoff lives. The catch was if that game had ended in a tie, then both teams would make the playoffs and the Pittsburgh Steelers would stay home. Well, as you all know, even though the game was tied 32-32 late in overtime, the Raiders decided to kick the winning field goal and send the Chargers into the offseason.
So yes, one went to the postseason. One grabbed their golf clubs. I get the feeling they're not going to be baking cookies for each other in anticipation of this game. And these two are not only bitter rivals but also part of what could be called "the group of death" that is the AFC West. With the Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos, you have four teams that all are sure-fire contenders for postseason spots but also have four of the more prolific quarterbacks in the NFL, with Derek Carr and Justin Herbert locking horns here on opening weekend and Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Russell Wilson (Broncos) still being considered marquee talents.
Of course, every win counts in this division. And every win is also painstakingly tough.
Las Vegas (0-0) at Los Angeles (0-0)
Three Things to Watch
1. All eyes on the Fresno connection
QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams are two former college teammates that are united again, this time in Sin City. After last season was over, Carr let it be known wide and far that he wanted his ex-teammate at Fresno State to get out of Green Bay and become a high-roller with him in Vegas. Adams finished second in the NFL with 123 catches for the Packers last season, then demanded a trade. Boy howdy! He will team with hulking tight end Darren Waller and crafty Hunter Renfrow to make an intimidating receiving corps. Oh, and if you don't think playing with your old college buddy isn't a big deal, think about how the Bengals did with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase last year.
On the opposite side, the Chargers had a big-time offseason acquisition in signing cornerback J.C. Jackson, but he just had ankle surgery a couple of weeks ago, and word from the team is that he will be a "game-time decision." However, he hasn't been practicing and there have been multiple published reports stating Jackson isn't expected to play on Sunday.
2. Year 3 of the Justin Herbert era
While front offices across the NFL spent most of the offseason playing Whack-a-Mole with free agents and other big-name players changing addresses throughout the league, the Chargers are quietly content with their third-year phenom lining up behind center once again. And Herbert is starting to get real cozy with the role here in TinselTown as well. In his rookie year, he finished 13th in QBR; last year he vaulted up to No. 3, proving that he is indeed one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league already. The Chargers led the AFC in passing offense and have their own "big three" in Keenan Allen (106 rec.,1,138 yds.), Mike Wiliams (76, 1,146), and Austin Ekeler (70, 647).
3. Rush hour traffic
Get ready for some manic pass rushes in this one. Both teams added a hyper-talented rusher to their D-line for this year, and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out in this first game. The Raiders finished 11th in sacks last year and added former Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones this year to complement Mad Maxx Crosby on the other side. Jones has 107.5 sacks and 33 forced fumbles in his career, the most in the NFL since 2012.
And how about the addition of Khalil Mack from the Bears to this Chargers defense? He and Joey Bosa will counter the Raider rushers with a potent pair of heat-seeking missiles themselves. These two are second and third, respectively, in QB pressures on third down in the last five seasons, Mack with 87 and Bosa with 81. Obviously, staying on schedule and getting passes off on time are going to be big issues for both Carr and the Raiders and Herbert and the Chargers.
Not a lot was said about the running game for both of these teams, but one thing you have to keep in mind is that the Charger defense was 30th in the NFL in stopping the run last season, giving up 139 yards per game. The Raiders didn't have a marquee ground crew a year ago, but Josh Jacobs could certainly get his fourth season off to a good start if the Raiders choose to utilize him in this game. He led Vegas with just 872 rushing yards last season but racked up 132 in the regular-season finale vs. LA.
Another undercard — if you will — has to be that matchup between the aforementioned Waller (55 rec., 665 yds. in 2021) and Chargers All-Pro safety Derwin James Jr. (118 tackles, 2 INTs), who is a tight end killer in the defensive backfield.
Lots of storylines in this one. And who knows, maybe this will be the first of three games between them. I'll give Round 1 to the team that has the bigger chip on their shoulder.
Prediction: Chargers 31, Raiders 28
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
*Price as of publication.