Much has happened since the Raiders beat the Chargers in early October.
Terrelle Pryor no longer is the Raiders’ starting quarterback, Oakland’s defense has collapsed since mid-November and the fate of head coach Dennis Allen now seems in question after four straight losses and six defeats in seven games.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have won three out of four to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, with impressive victories over the Broncos and Chiefs. Quarterback Philip Rivers – who threw three interceptions in the Raiders’ 27-17 victory on Oct. 6 – is having one of his best seasons and has been mentioned as an MVP candidate.
So, with the Raiders (4-10) and Chargers (7-7) meeting in San Diego Sunday afternoon, it appears to be a matchup of two teams headed in opposite directions. With the Chargers still having something to play for and with Rivers and the San Diego offense on a roll, the Raiders could be in trouble.
“Obviously, they’re on a little bit of a hot streak and they’ve played really well the last couple of weeks,” Allen told the Bay Area media early this week. “I don’t think anything’s really changed, not much has changed from a personnel standpoint, not much has changed from a schematic standpoint. They’re obviously playing really well. We haven’t played as well the last couple of weeks, so we need to go out there and put (on) a good performance.”
Rivers’ 106.9 quarterback rating ranks as his best since becoming the team’s starter in 2006, and is far above his career rating of 96.0. He leads the NFL in completion percentage at 69.9 percent, has a great touchdown-to-interception ratio of 28-9 and averages 8.4 yards for every throw he makes.
Playing against a Raiders defense that is hurt and struggling, Rivers could be on the verge of putting up some large numbers Sunday. After all, this Oakland defense recently allowed struggling rookie QB Geno Smith of the Jets to have a big day.
Oakland ranks 24th in the NFL in pass defense.
Plus, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has come on since that early October meeting to become one of the NFL’s best backs. In their first meeting, Mathews was hurt and had just three carries for eight yards. But he’s rushed for more than 100 in three of his past five games, including 127 in San Diego’s 27-20 victory over Denver on Dec. 12. With 1,012 yards rushing, he’s on pace to break his career high of 1,091 in 2011.
“He’s running the ball exceptionally well,” Allen said of Mathews. “Again, he’s a powerful back, runs with a lot of explosiveness. He runs tough, breaks a lot of tackles, and then he’s got the burst to take it the distance if he gets in the clear.”
Based on how they’ve played lately, the Raiders will likely need to force some turnovers and take advantage of San Diego mistakes to come away with their fifth win. In the first matchup, the Chargers turned the ball over five times.
On offense, the Raiders are expected to get running back Darren McFadden back on the field to back up Rashad Jennings, which should boost the running attack.
Oddsmakers have made the Chargers 7½-point favorites.