You can’t write it much better than this.
The Chargers, through all their ups and downs this season, are right at the precipice of the playoffs in Brandon Staley’s first year as a head coach. On the other side, the Raiders are in the same position, despite the numerous off-field issues that have plagued them throughout this tumultuous year.
They’ll do battle on Sunday Night Football with the winner punching their ticket to the postseason, and of course, earning them bragging rights over their divisional rival.
With help from Silver & Black Pride’s Matt Holder, we previewed this week’s “win and in” game and how different Chargers fans should view this Raiders team compared to the one the Bolts stomped in the first month of the season.
Let’s get right into it.
1.) The Chargers got the best of the Raiders in week four but that was quite some time ago. How are these Raiders different from that first matchup? Where are they better/worse?
Offensively, the Raiders are a lot less explosive than before without Henry Ruggs in the lineup. They’ve had to revert to a shorter, more “dink and dunk” passing game which has been a struggle but has allowed a guy like Hunter Renfrow to make a name for himself and become a 1,000-yard receiver. The Raiders are also expected to get Darren Waller back, who did play last time but hasn’t suited up since Thanksgiving, so it’s still a bit of a mystery as to what their passing attack will exactly look like.
One area where I think they’ve improved since Week 4, and something I’m hoping they’ll be able to take advantage of this week, is their rushing attack. Josh Jacobs and Co. have rushed for 343 yards over the last three weeks and the offensive line has been much better at creating rushing lanes lately.
The biggest difference for Las Vegas’ defense is in its secondary. Former Charger Casey Hayward is still the top corner and playing well and the same goes for Tre’von Moehrig at free safety, but those two are the only holdovers from last time. Trayvon Mullen got injured in that game and has basically been out ever since - he tried to return a few weeks ago but only played a half and went back on IR - and Johnathan Abram injured his shoulder and is also done for the year. Then there’s Nate Hobbs, who is expected to play per head coach Rich Bisaccia, but that could change depending on the legal situation.
Expect to see a couple more former Chargers in action for Mullen and Abram as Brandon Facyson will likely get the start at corner and Roderic Teamer should serve as Abram’s replacement. If Hobbs doesn’t play, three-year veteran Keisean Nixon will handle the slot duties.
2.) What’s the fan base’s temperature right now for interim head coach Rich Bisaccia? How would fans feel about him returning next season? Which coaches would you like to see interviewed for the job?
Some people in Raider Nation would like to see Bisaccia back if they win on Sunday, but I think most have accepted the fact that he likely won’t get the permanent job. He seems like a great guy and deserves an award for dealing with all of the off-the-field drama that has ensued, but the mid-season 1-5 skid still ways heavy on the fan base’s mind.
There’s been a lot of buzz around Jim Harbaugh recently. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman wrote that Harbaugh might explore a return to the NFL and Feldman called out two teams by name, the Raiders and Bears. Harbaugh’s first coaching job in the NFL was in Oakland as the quarterbacks coach and he’s apparently good friends with the Davis family.
The other name to watch is Dabo Sweeney, who was recently seen at a game in Vegas decked out in Raiders gear. My pick would be Doug Pederson, though I wouldn’t mind Harbaugh either.
3.) How has this team, after so many issues plaguing them throughout the season, continued to fight and claw their way into contention for a playoff spot? Who do you credit for keeping this team together through a tumultuous year?
As mentioned above, I do have to give Bisaccia a lot of credit for keeping this team afloat and in the playoff mix during this mess. I don’t know of many interim head coaches who have had to deal with a scandal from their predecessor, their star wide receiver killing someone, a former first-round pick getting released after threatening someone’s life and a starter getting arrested for a DUI days before the biggest game of the season.
I also have to recognize the job Derek Carr has done. He’s been impacted by all of the incidents I just mentioned too, and he’s remained the team’s leader as well as adapted his play-style to adjust to the personnel changes around him.
The Raiders deserve a ton of credit for their current three-game win streak, but I do have to acknowledge that they’ve gotten a little lucky with the matchups recently. The Browns had a major COVID outbreak that forced them to start third-string quarterback Nick Mullens, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a concussion the week before heading to Las Vegas so they got to face the Drew Lock lead Broncos, and Carson Wentz missed practice all week in COVID protocols. Granted, I do think beating the Colts added some validity to the streak and the Raiders faced their own adversity too, but they have definitely benefitted from short-handed opponents.
4.) Who are some players Chargers fans may not know a ton about but have still managed to play a key role in this team’s success this season?
That’s a tough question because a lot of my go-to’s for this are former Chargers, Hayward, Denzel Perryman, Facyson and Darius Philon, lol.
Defensively, I’ll say Divine Deablo. As a rookie third-round pick who was making the transition from college safety to NFL linebacker, Deablo didn’t play much at the beginning of the season but has come on as of late. He’s been one of Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded linebackers against the run over the last several weeks and took Cory Littleton’s starting spot so we should see Deablo one-on-one against Austin Ekeler a lot on Sunday.
Offensively, it’s hard to say now that Renfrow has become more popular and the Raiders aren’t that deep at the skill positions, so I’ll go with center Andre James. This is James’ first season as a starter and he struggled in Week 4 but has gotten a lot better as the year has gone on. I think he’ll play a big role in the team’s success, or lack thereof, on the ground, especially lining up across from Linval Joseph.
5.) Go ahead and give us a final score prediction along with a few lines on how you see this one shaking out on Sunday night.
This is a tough one but I’ll go 24-20 Chargers.
I think the Raiders will be able to have more success on the ground this time around, but I’m very worried about their banged-up secondary against Justin Herbert and Co. If Los Angeles can put up points early like last time, that’ll force Las Vegas to abandon their rushing attack and play to the defense’s strength. However, the Raiders seem to win when I pick against them so I’m kind of going for a little bit of jinx here.