Are the playoffs in the future for the Chargers?
It was supposed to be a promising season for the Oakland Raiders, who will not be going to the playoffs in 2017. Instead it's the Los Angeles Chargers with something to play for in this one. They'll get into the postseason with a win and some help. LA needs the Titans to lose to the Jaguars, who really have nothing to play for and the Bills to lose to the Dolphins on the road. The Chargers could also get in with a Tennessee loss and a Ravens win over the Bengals, which seems like the more likely scenario.
Los Angeles (8-7) has won five of its last six and it's because of the Chargers’ fantastic defense and just enough offense. They have given up 90 points over that span with 30 of those coming two weeks ago in Kansas City against the Chiefs. They managed to overcome some key injuries in the secondary early on. If they played like this earlier in the season, then this week wouldn't be an issue for them. Melvin Gordon is not 100 percent right now, but he says that he will play in the contest. Gordon has had a touchdown in each of the last three games.
The bottom has dropped out for Oakland (6-9), who has lost three straight and four of the last six. Derek Carr (above, right) has fallen apart and is making people wonder if he is not over his injury yet. Marshawn Lynch is picking up his production although he lost his first fumble since 2014 in Monday night’s close loss to the Eagles. The Raiders had a ton of turnovers in the second half in a very winnable game and the effort was emblematic for the season. The defense is actually playing a bit better if you look at the numbers though.
The Chargers have won 13 of their last 25 at home in this series although the Raiders have covered 15 of those contests. Oakland is 12-12 on the road the last three seasons while the Chargers are 10-13 at home over that same span. This could be one of the rare games where Los Angeles doesn't feel like the road team at home.
Oakland at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 31 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Chargers -9
Three Things to Watch
There are some pretty obvious reasons to take the Chargers in this one. They are in a better mindset right now and because the NFL placed all the potential playoff teams at 4:25 p.m. ET, there is no reason for LA to not be focused and try hard. I also think we might see somewhat of a true home-field advantage in this one because I can't see Raiders fans traveling in a meaningless contest for them. On the Oakland side, you've got a team with one less day to prepare for another road trip in a lost season. This pretty much means we could get a really flat effort from the road team who could be ready to head into the offseason. They probably would have been blown out by the Eagles if Philadelphia had actually been focused on Monday night. The one thing to also consider is that management could be watching the Raiders ‘effort as a way to decide if they want to fire head coach Jack Del Rio. These losses down the stretch do not reflect well upon him and he may not have a job soon.
2. Is the Carr broken?
Derek Carr is in horrendous form right now. In three of his last four starts, the signal-caller has failed to throw multiple touchdowns. He's also thrown four interceptions over his last three contests. Carr got paid in the offseason and has not lived up to those expectations. He was 21-of-30 for 171 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions back in October against the Chargers. Michael Crabtree is questionable for this one after posting a giant zero against the Eagles on Monday night. Amari Cooper has had touchdowns in three of his last four games, but could struggle to get open against cornerback Casey Hayward, who held the wideout to 28 yards in the first meeting. It would be nice for Carr to have a nice finish to his eventful 2017 season.
3. Scoring at a premium
These two have combined for 21 unders so far this season in their 30 games. Los Angeles is very beatable on the ground where they allow around 132 yards per contest. With the recent resurgence of Marshawn Lynch (right) that could make things a little interesting. The Jets nearly ran for 200 yards in the Chargers’ 14-7 road win last week. They make up for it though with a passing defense that has held team under 200 yards per contest. Since Jacksonville threw for 263 yards back in early November, no opponent has finished with more than 225 through the air. Oakland's actually pretty good against the run and have held five of its last seven opponents to less then 100 yards on the ground. I don’t think this one will feature a lot of points.
Plain and simple, I think the Chargers get the win. The question will be if they cover the bigger spread. Los Angeles is in very good form right now while the Raiders have one foot into the offseason. The one thing we don't know is if it will be enough to get them another game in the AFC playoffs.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 10
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.