None of us are old enough to remember the vitriolic rivalry that took place between the Chargers and the Raiders back in the old AFL days. Yes, we’re talking the Mad Men days of the '60s. Coaching gunslingers Al Davis and Sid Gillman provided offensive innovation and fireworks for the new league.
Well, that level of explosion is back again between these two left coast rivals. Both teams come in with improved defenses as well, buoying hopes for their first playoff appearances in a number of years. The Chargers haven’t been to the postseason since 2018 and the Raiders since '16. And get this, division titles have been even rarer, 2009 for the Chargers and '02 for the Raiders.
It was an ugly start last week vs. the Dolphins, but the Raiders rallied for a 31-28 win in overtime, despite facing Miami’s second-string QB. This is the Raiders' first 3-0 start since 2002. The Chargers just got done taking down two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium 30-24. In other words, the Bolts just got a huge shot of confidence going into this one.
Monday Night Football: Las Vegas (3-0) vs. Los Angeles (2-1)
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 3 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Chargers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Let’s start with the obvious — QB play
Looking at how things sit right now, Derek Carr is playing at an All-Pro level and was just named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. Meanwhile second-year phenom Justin Herbert just out-dueled Patrick Mahomes. That means this will be a real marquee game for the field generals of both teams. Carr is leading the NFL with 1,203 passing yards and looks strong to get to the 4,000-yard mark once again by the end of the season. Last week, six different receivers had at least five targets from Carr, so he definitely spreads the love. The Raiders' receiving corps will be tested here as the Chargers rank seventh in the league in both scoring defense (20 ppg) and in passing defense (202 ypg allowed). But nothing will come easy for Herbert either as a much improved Raiders defense awaits him. Last year the Raiders were 30th in the NFL in points per game allowed (29.9) and are currently 15th (24.0 ppg). They also were 30th in third-down conversions (at 48.8 percent) but are now sixth (33.3 percent). Though there are plenty of viable options, watch for emerging go-to guy Mike Williams (7 rec., 122 yds., 2 TDs vs. KC) to continue to grow into a bigger target for that Charger passing offense.
2. Fundamentals boys, fundamentals
Both teams have benefitted and been hurt by turnovers and penalties. The Raiders got off to a horrible start vs. the Dolphins, including an interception returned for a touchdown and a turnover on downs, digging themselves a 14-0 hole in the first quarter. On the flip side, the Chargers bolted out to a 14-0 lead vs. the Chiefs by getting a few oskies off of Mr. Mahomes. The lead could’ve been even more if not for a few bad-timed penalties. In fact, L.A. is one of the worst teams in the yellow flag department, ranking 30th in penalties (8.7 per game) and 32nd in penalty yards (81 per game). The Chargers must cut that number down significantly this week.
3. The Raider pass rush
Without a doubt, the Chargers will be the stiffest test of the season on this Raider pass rush. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has gotten really good pressure on opposing QBs (a 44 percent pressure rate) despite rarely blitzing (an NFL low 9 percent). It all begins with the ends, where Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby have been taking advantage of Swiss cheese O-lines through the first three weeks. Although they only have two sacks between them, Ngakoue has 15 pressures in his three games and Crosby leads the league with 25. Herbert has only been sacked five times so far this season, so this will be a big challenge for the Raiders' pass rush.
This should be a really entertaining game, so make sure all your rowdy friends are there on Monday night and ready for some wide-open football. These two division rivals are obviously very familiar with each other. In their two games last season the Raiders won in Sofi Stadium by five points and the Chargers won in Allegiant Stadium by a field goal. Everything points to another close shave here too.
While the two high-profile QBs will certainly put on a show, don’t sleep on whichever team gets the running game going in this one as the Raiders got 111 yards on the ground from Peyton Barber (filling in for Josh Jacobs, who could return) and the Chargers' Austin Ekeler is a potential breakout runner averaging nearly five yards per carry so far this season.
Whoever gets the dual-threat offense going and can maintain some time of possession, gets the advantage here. Not sure if the Raider running game will make lightning strike twice on the ground again. Gimme the Lightning Bolts at home here. And yes, close. As usual.
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.