Oakland Raiders (Week 5–Home, Week 10–Away)
If the Chargers attain the coveted season-series sweep within the division, it will come at the expense of the Oakland Raiders. The blend of a porous defense and a head coach in Gruden who’s been absent from the sidelines since 2009 means the Raiders might be treading through murky waters this coming season.
Before August. 31, the Raiders’ defense was already in rugged shape, especially the secondary. A defensive backfield featuring cornerbacks Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin and safeties Marcus Gilchrist and Karl Joseph is not evoking images of a vaunted secondary. But at least the Oakland defense had two-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack on the depth chart.
And then August 31 came. The Raiders shipped their superstar defensive end to the Chicago Bears in a shocking trade that resolved Mack’s arduous holdout. However, the transaction severely damaged Oakland’s entire defensive unit, which could emerge as on the NFL’s worst as the season progresses. No Mack means the Raiders’ pass-rush could be inadequate, and that will trickle back to the lackluster secondary.
Oakland’s pass defense was 26th in the NFL last year and opposing quarterbacks recorded a collective 101.8 passer rating when facing the Raiders. Rivers’ first game against the Raiders in 2017 was solid, as he recorded 268 passing yards, one touchdown pass and a stellar 69.4 percent completion rate.
His second performance against Oakland was sensational. The veteran quarterback torched the Raiders’ pass defense for 387 passing yards and three touchdowns for a 135.8 passer rating, his second-highest of the season. Expect similar production from Rivers against the black and silver in 2018.
Do not expect the Raiders’ run defense to fare much better when taking on Gordon, who was extremely efficient against Oakland in 2017. His first outing saw him rack up 83 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards on 34 total touches, with a rushing and receiving touchdown for good measure. Gordon recorded 93 rushing yards off 17 carries and 31 receiving yards in his second performance against the Raiders.
Oakland’s lone glimmer of hope is an offense led by quarterback Derek Carr. The Fresno State alum was satisfactory last season in comparison to his MVP-caliber campaign in 2016. Carr tossed 28 touchdown strikes to six interceptions off of 3,937 passing yards two seasons ago when the Raiders went 12-4. The Bakersfield, California native has displayed he can perform at a top-tier level in the past, a plus for Oakland.
Carr’s stable of surrounding talent is capable of excellent production. The duo of Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson could be dangerous for opposing secondaries if they both play consistently well. Tight end Jared Cook is no slouch, and veteran running back Marshawn Lynch has looked refreshed this preseason.
Nonetheless, the Chargers will topple the Raiders twice in 2018.