The Los Angeles Chargers are just days away from their week 18 matchup against the arch-rival Las Vegas Raiders. In what is the most meaningful game between these two franchises this century, the stakes could not be any higher. For both teams, a win in this game guarantees a coveted playoff spot in the tightly contested AFC, and a road playoff game in the Wild Card round next week.
In situations of this magnitude, every last finite detail, decision, and individual matchups are of the utmost importance. The small details of game-planning and execution are going to be what makes the difference in this win-and-in battle.
In this article, we'll explore the three most critical x-factors in this edition of Chargers-Raiders, and analyze their importance to determine who clinches a playoff berth.
1. How the Chargers handle the environment at Allegiant Stadium
The Raiders' new 'death star' look-alike Allegiant Stadium will be packed 65,000 strong on Sunday Night Football. Even with a large amount of Chargers fans expected at the game, similar to what's been happening at a majority of the Raiders home games this year, there's no doubt the crowd will provide a hostile environment for LA.
This is obviously the most important game played in the stadium's short history, and with the Raiders honoring John Madden in their first home game since his passing, you can bet the 'Black Hole' and the rest of the Raiders faithful will be raucous throughout the night.
The LA Chargers have played and been successful in some big road games ths year, such as a week three 30-24 victory at Arrowhead against the Chiefs and a 41-22 victory at Paul Brown Stadium against the Bengals in week 13.
Despite the highly impressive victories that these games were, this matchup will provide a much different set of circumstances and pressure for the visiting team. First off, there is no tomorrow if you fall short. In these games earlier in the season, a loss definitely sucks, however you brush yourself off and get ready for next week. In this scenario, that can't happen, a loss sends you home for the season. The Chargers will be in a situation like this for the first time since the 2019 playoff game against the New England Patriots, in which they were blown out despite a somewhat respectable 41-28 final score.
Despite the expectations and subsequent pressure of a win-and-in being applicable to the entire team, it will be of particular interest to see how Justin Herbert manages the strenuous situation. This will be the most important game of Herbert's career since his 2020 Rose Bowl triumph with Oregon, and even with his primetime excellence early on in his career, this set of circumstances will provide a different challenge. If he throws an early interception, how will he bounce back? If the team is down multiple scores will he lose composure and force throws? His track record so far shows he'll be fine, but the power of pressure and expectations can be taxing in these big games.