Thursday night's matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Oakland Raiders is a de facto playoff game, as both teams are looking up at the division-leading Chiefs in the AFC West. The Raiders (4-4) held on last Sunday for a white-knuckle win against a stingy Lions team in a game in which Oakland rookies scored all four touchdowns. After being away from the Bay Area since Week 2, the Raiders hope their current three-game homestand can be the catalyst that throws them back into the playoff race.
The Chargers (4-5) played their most complete game of the season last week, dominating the Packers 26-11 in front of a pro-Green Bay crowd in Los Angeles. Before beating Green Bay, the Chargers had dropped three of their last four, their disappointing season slipping away. Now the Bolts have won two in a row and will try to knock off the Raiders, as they begin their own playoff push with a much-needed road win on Thursday.
Los Angeles at Oakland
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 7 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Oakland -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Jacobs
Jacobs' huge performance against the Lions was his third 100-yard game in his last four tries, solidly putting him ahead of the pack for Offensive Rookie of the Year and in the top-10 of the league in rushing attempts, yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per game. On Thursday, he will square up against a Chargers’ defense that found its groove last week against Green Bay, holding the Packers to just 45 yards on the ground. As a whole, the Chargers’ run defense has been a bottom-third unit, giving up 114 yards per contest and 1,027 yards total this season. Jacobs has a great opportunity Sunday to distance himself from not only the great Marcus Allen but the mediocre Chargers defense.
2. A little help for Mr. Bosa?
In limiting Green Bay to just 84 total yards in the first three quarters, the Chargers had their best defensive performance of the season last week against the Packers. The LAC defense kept Aaron Rodgers to just 161 yards passing and a comically dismal 13.2 QBR. The Chargers’ front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, never allowing Rodgers to get comfortable and sacking him three times, as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III each recorded 1.5 sacks.
While their performance last week was outstanding, the question remains if can the Chargers do it again and get to the elusive Derek Carr. Outside of Bosa (8.5 sacks), the Chargers aren’t known for their pass rush, ranking 17th in sacks this season with 21. Bosa is the only player with more than two-and-a-half sacks. This week, the Chargers will line up against a short-handed but effective Raiders’ offensive line, a unit that ranks second in sacks allowed (9) and first in QB hits allowed (16).
3. No rest for the weary
Offensive linemen are the most overlooked and underappreciated part of a football team, at least to the general public. There are no fantasy points for offensive linemen. But in reality, there may not be a more important unit on a team than the offensive line. A great offensive line can make a journeyman quarterback look like Troy Aikman and a rookie running back look like Emmitt Smith by keeping opposing front-sevens at bay.
This season, the Raiders’ O-line has been one of the best in the business, keeping Carr clean and clearing the way for Jacobs. But on a short week, and short-handed, the Raiders' hog mollies may face their toughest test of the season. Last week, Oakland was without starting right tackle Trent Brown and starting center Rodney Hudson. Both were replaced seamlessly by undrafted rookie center Andre James and backup tackle David Sharpe, as the Raiders' front line cleared the way for 171 rushing yards while allowing just one sack. Head coach Jon Gruden has yet to commit whether either Brown or Hudson will be ready to go on a short week, but if they can’t, the Raiders’ patchwork offensive line will certainly have their hands full slowing down the explosive Bosa coming off the edge.
It's rare that a "Thursday Night Football" game actually turns into the best or most important game of the week, but this Chargers-Raiders matchup could be the outlier, as playoff implications become ever more vital. Both teams come into this game with their warts and their highlights and are almost equal across the board in most team stats, so it will come down to who can make a play at the right time. Give me the future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers and the Bolts to win their third in a row in a close, ugly one.
Prediction: Chargers 19, Raiders 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.