It’s a big game on Sunday night for both of these teams, the Chargers and Raiders, but it’s not the biggest of all time.
No, not as big as the past… the Chargers-49ers Super Bowl game was as big as ever in San Diego history. That and the critical playoff games that got them to the Super Bowl in Miami.
The Raiders, whether it was in Oakland or Los Angeles, have had tons of big playoff games, and Super Bowl wins, in another era, the Al Davis era.
But Sunday’s season finale, with both teams bringing (9-7) records into Allegiant Stadium, carries importance for both sidelines.
Can the Chargers reach a high water mark under first year coach Brandon Staley, and complete the rebranding of a troubled franchise.
A bitter San Diego community will likely never forgive Dean Spanos for what he did to 55-years of loyalty, but it is a city that likes and roots for quarterback Justin Herbert.
The Bolts franchise has never been the same since ownership allowed then GM-AJ Smith to run off coach Marty Schottenheimer. Norv Turner-to-Mike McCoy-to-Anthony Lynn was a decade plus of substandard football, and the team was then moved.
In Las Vegas, where they have embraced the Silver-and-Black logo, those fans were never really exposed to all the bad years that Al Davis turned the franchise into.
No one mentions that in the years of decline under Al Davis, the Raiders were (92-180). For all the glory, the Raiders have had just 2-winning seasons in 19-years. They’ve been a wildcard team just once since 2003. Their last big game was a Super Bowl loss in 2002 to Tampa Bay.
Whereas Staley and his Rhodes Scholar football smarts has delivered some spectacular Sunday wins, the Raiders staggered, and then forced out Jon Gruden, whose teams went (28-36) since he reappeared wearing their colors.
So Sunday there will be storylines everywhere. No doubt it will be Herbert and his Bolts against the Derek Carr-led Raiders, backed by 72,000-screaming Raider Nation fans in a shiny new Black Hole.
And think, moments before Sunday night, when the family of John Madden will be introduced and given the honor of igniting the Al Davis torch atop the glitzy new Stadium on the strip..
It will be electric, and then they will play football.
But who are the Chargers? Who are the Raiders? They have had great streaks, awful losses, injuries, Covid outbreaks and a coaching change.
Here’s a matchup-by-matchup looks at these old AFL-rivals, dating back to Balboa Stadium (Chargers) and Frank Youell Field (Raiders)
QB..Herbert has had a spectacular season.(4,631Y-35TD), a 99-QB rating, plus (301Y) rushing. Carr has been equally impressive(4,618Y-26TD) and a 98-rating. Even more impressive, Carr has become a true leader, bringing his team back emotionally after the Gruden resignation. Then finding a way to survive the loss of big play receiver Henry Ruggs in that drunk driving case, and the injury to his top tight end Darren Waller. EDGE: Bolts
RB..Austin Ekeler is everything to this offense. Catch-Run-even block, a season worth (1,459APY). He is so heavy duty. The burning question is why Josh Jacobs has not been the NFL running back that he was at Alabama. An odd big game, but for the most part, a middle of the road player. EDGE..Bolts
WR..Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have combined for (167) receptions. Big yardage plays, a bunch of touchdowns. Covering them is a nightmare. Hunter Renfrow is the heart and soul of the passing game (99R) and is so sneaky fast and slick getting open. Beyond that, the Raiders have shown no consistency, though Zay Jones has had a couple of big games of late after years of bouncing around. the Raiders tried Antonio Brown a year ago, DeSean Jackson this year, but not much in terms of big time production. EDGE..Bolts
TE…Darren Waller came off a practice squad to be rock solid, big time. He has had knee problems. but seems ready to play and he is pretty important (53R) this season. Jared Cook, for a vested veteran, has played well, though not a productive guy weekly. The rest of the Chargers group can make plays, but have not been featured consistently. EDGE..Raiders
OL..The Chargers’ Rashawn Slater and Mike Filer have been rock solid consistent. Corey Linsley is banged up. The right side of the line has been deficient. The Raiders have Kolton Miller at left tackle, but have gone thru alot of guys at the other four spots. Purging all their vets with bloated contracts was a setback. EDGE…Chargers.
DL..Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu, blocks of beef inside at defensive tackle highlife the defense. They do pressure quarterbacks, but they cannot stop the power run games. The Raiders have overachieved under Gus Bradley. The one intriguing aspect, they play hard, they fly around, they pressure, led by Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakou. That front makes things happen. EDGE..Raiders.
LB..Injuries and illness and position changes have changed the look of the Bolts crew. Kenneth Murray has been in and out of the lineup. Kzyer White has had a good season, but there hasn’t been a lot of consistency. The Chargers have athletes who can run. The Raiders have a ton of aging experience, led by Denzell Perryman, KJ Wright and Corey Littleton and an aspiring rookie D-Deablo.. They play hard and keep people out of the end zone. EDGE..Raiders
DB..Derwin James, here, there everywhere. The back end starts and ends with that. The Bolts DBs can run with speed. Asante Samuel makes plays, gives up plays. Ditto for Michael Davis and Nasir Adderley. The collective group will be good some day, but not this Sunday. I just don’t think they are right now. Casey Hayward has had a bounce back year after falling off the charts with the Bolts. The rest of the secondary is a mixed bag of kids, making plays, getting beat on plays too. Don’t either group can stop the other guy. EDGE…it’s a wash.
SPECIAL TEAMS…Andre Roberts has had two weekends of big returns. He can change a team’s fortune with one kick return. He will need to do it again. Renfrew does lots of things for the special teams. EDGE..Chargers.
KICKERS…Fascinating find Dustin Hopkins (17-for-18) on field goals for the Chargers. Even better, the recycled Daniel Carlson (35-of-38) for the Raiders. EDGE…Raiders.
The stats are impressive. The Bolts average (387YPG), hit on 47% of their third downs and have 44-Red zone touchdowns. The Raiders average (364YPG) and have 28-red zone scores but get lots more field goals.
Defensively the Bolts are at the bottom of a lot of categories, allowing (361YPG) and are near the bottom in run defense and are allowing 49%-third down conversions, a pretty sad set of numbers with a team led by Bosa-James. The Raiders are giving up (330YPG) and make you work hard. Still waiting for them to become a team of takeaways-but it has not happened yet.
Who are the Chargers? From a (4-1) start, they are (5-6) since. Atrocious losses to Minnesota, Denver and Houston. Struggles to put away Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And they were physically whipped by Dallas, the Ravens, New England and the Chiefs.
Who are the Raiders? Yes, they won against Dallas, Cleveland and the Colts. But how do you explain losses to awful Chicago, Washington and the woeful Giants?
The fans may think these are special teams, but they’re just a shade above .500. My heart says this will be a throwing war between Herbert and Carr. My head says one of the kickers will win it.
What to watch? Herbert going bombs away against a young struggling Raiders secondary. Ditto for Carr and what receivers he has left, to go after a porous Chargers secondary.
Who wins? Bolts have too much firepower for the Raiders to stop series after series. Final score (42-35)…EDGE…Chargers win. Raiders-Good Night Now !.