Derek Carr and the Raiders can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Chargers
After 55 seasons in San Diego, this afternoon could be the last time the Oakland Raiders visit the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Last month, the team’s new stadium ballot measure failed in San Diego County, as only 57 percent of the votes cast were in favor. Under California law, the measure needed two-thirds of voters to approve it, so the Chargers could be playing in Los Angeles as early as next season if they decide to act on their option to move by the Jan. 15 deadline.
Oakland (10-3) will be coming into San Diego off 10 days rest and looking to rebound from a 21-13 loss at current AFC West leader Kansas City. A win over the Chargers will clinch the Raiders’ first playoff berth since 2002, which was the season they lost Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 to Tampa Bay in a game that also was played in Qualcomm Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Chargers (5-8) have lost four out of last six games and two straight. While San Diego hasn’t officially been eliminated from playoff contention, it appears the franchise will miss the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Back in Week 5, Oakland held on at home to beat the Chargers 34-31 on a botched 36-yard field goal attempt. The Raiders lead the all-time series over their longtime divisional rivals 62-50-2.
Oakland at San Diego
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 18, 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Oakland -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Philip Rivers
At 35, Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. However, in the team’s last two games, Rivers hasn’t exactly been sharp.
In back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina, Rivers has thrown for a combined 461 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. Rivers’ 14 interceptions are second only to Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles for the most in the NFL and half of his total has come in the last three games.
With Oakland entering this game ranked near the bottom of the league in passing defense (27th, 264.3 ypg), Rivers should have plenty of opportunities to try and take advantage of a leaky Raiders’ secondary.
2. Khalil Mack
Against the Chargers, Mack has a chance to make NFL history. No player has recorded a sack in nine consecutive games in the same season since sacks became an official stat in 1982. With 11 sacks on the season, Mack is tied for fourth in that department.
San Diego’s offensive line has had a problem protecting Rivers, who has been sacked 33 times this season. Last week, Rivers was sacked five times by Carolina, one of those going for a safety. Mack leads the NFL with 73 pressures, so even if he can’t get his hands on Rivers, his presence alone could cause problems for the Chargers.
3. Joey Bosa
After missing training camp and being held out of the first four games of the season, Bosa made his NFL debut in Week 5 against Oakland. And while the Raiders wound up winning the game, the third overall pick of this year’s draft made quite the first impressions, registering five tackles and two sacks.
Since the Raiders have already seen Bosa up close, they are likely to be more prepared for him this afternoon. Considering the time he missed, Bosa has been somewhat productive with 27 tackles, 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble in nine games.
Oakland’s offensive line has done an excellent job of protecting quarterback Derek Carr this year, as he’s only been sacked 13 times. But Bosa has gotten to Carr already, and you know that will be the goal once again.
No matter the records, these division rivals usually play each other fairly close. San Diego’s offense won’t be at full strength with running back Melvin Gordon out because of a hip injury, but Philip Rivers has carried the Chargers before.
Oakland is coming off of a loss at Kansas City in which the Raiders lost despite forcing three turnovers. If Derek Carr and company can do a better job of holding onto it, they should be able to exploit a San Diego pass defense that has dealt with plenty of injuries and comes in ranked 26th in the NFL.
Don’t be surprised if this ends up being a back-and-forth affair with plenty of big plays and scoring. The Raiders are a little more equipped to succeed in that type of game, which is why they will pull out a close win on the road to secure their first playoff berth in more than a decade.
Prediction: Raiders 37, Chargers 34
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.