By Dave Thomas
Avoiding an upset will be priority number one for the Oakland Raiders (10-3) when the team faces the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
Oakland beat the Chargers at home 34-31 earlier this season. As the Raiders prepare to go on the road, the team undoubtedly knows that San Diego would love to play spoiler and pull off the upset.
Sitting at 5-8, the Chargers will look to make life miserable for the Raiders in week 15. In their earlier meeting in the Bay Area, San Diego seemed poised to send the game into overtime tied at 34. Unfortunately for the Chargers, a botched hold on a potential game-tying field goal was mishandled, sending San Diego to defeat.
So, what will happen this time around when two old rivals square off in Southern California?
San Diego Chargers 5-8
To say this season has been a disappointment for San Diego would be an understatement. After stumbling to a 4-12 mark a season ago, the Chargers and head coach Mike McCoy had hoped for brighter things in 2016. As it turns out, the team will have to win its final three games to avoid another losing season, a season that could cost McCoy his job.
With home games left against Oakland and Kansas City, the Chargers will look to capitalize on playing the role of spoiler, something they have gotten used to in recent years.
San Diego Chargers On Offense
While the Chargers have to win their final three games (Oakland, at Cleveland, Kansas City) just to hit .500, there are some players on the offensive side of the ball who could make it a long day for Oakland's defense come Sunday.
Veteran QB Philip Rivers comes into the game having thrown this season for 3,353 yards. Rivers has tallied 25 touchdowns against 14 INTs along the way. Tyrell Williams (53 receptions, 837 yards, six TDs), Travis Benjamin (42 receptions, 546 yards, three TDs) and Dontrelle Inman (40 receptions, 546 yards, three TDs) are among the top targets the North Carolina State product will target Sunday.
As for the ground game, the second-year product Melvin Gordon (zero rushing TDs in 2015) is the one to watch if healthy. He has 10 touchdowns on the season, having rushed for 992 yards on 251 carries. However, Gordon's status is unknown at this time, as he was carted off the field in Sunday's loss at Carolina with a hip injury.
San Diego Chargers On Defense
Coming into Sunday's match-up with the Raiders, San Diego is ranked 17th overall in total team defense, allowing 353.3 yards per game and 26.7 points per contest, respectively. Through 13 games, the Chargers have given up 30 or more points in six contests, something that is not a recipe for success in most situations.
There will certainly be opportunities for the Raiders' offense to exploit the Chargers' defense. In doing so, they will need to contain the team's top defensive leaders. The Chargers have been led to date by the likes of Korey Toomer (61 total tackles), Jatavis Brown (54 total stops, three sacks), Melvin Ingram (43 total tackles, six sacks) and the overall third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft Joey Bosa (5.5 sacks).
San Diego Players To Watch: Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry
Rivers has several offensive weapons who he relies on and is known to take full advantage of his always dangerous tight ends. Veteran Antonio Gates (34 catches, 327 yards, five TDs) and rookie Hunter Henry (27 receptions, 385 yards, five TDs) have been targeted significantly this season. The Raiders must prepare to defend against San Diego's dynamic tight ends come Sunday.
For San Diego to have a shot at pulling off the upset Sunday, they will need to keep the home crowd in the game, a crowd that always features many Oakland fans when these two teams clash in Southern California. If Oakland can get out to a sizable early lead, San Diego could be en route to another losing season, one in which notable changes are likely to come.
Having met dating all the way back to 1960, Oakland leads the all-time series 62-50-2. Oakland must bounce back from their tough loss in Kansas City in week 14 and prepare to face another divisional opponent on the road in what should be another hard-hitting gritty game.
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