The Raiders are in desperate need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Chargers will look to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. It’s an AFC West showdown in Vegas on Thursday Night Football.
Week 15 Prime Time Picks: Chargers (+165) vs Raiders (-3.5) O/U 53 – All lines via DraftKings
Prime Time Picks: 15-15-1
Raiders Are Reeling
After a three-game winning streak that took Vegas’ record to 6-3, the Raiders have lost three of four, with that one win coming against the winless Jets in miracle fashion. That win came after being absolutely decimated by the Falcons in Atlanta 43-6. The Raiders looked a little bit better last week against the Colts, putting up over 400 yards of offense. However, turnovers proved costly, and the Raiders defense was not able to provide any resistance to the Colts rushing attack. Indy ran for 212 yards en route to a 44-27 victory. Now at 7-6, the Raiders desperately need to win this game against the Chargers to keep their playoff hopes alive. I hate using the term “must-win” in the NFL, but the Raiders absolutely cannot afford to lose this game.
Chargers Seeking Back-to-Back Wins
The Chargers are coming off a 20-17 win over the Falcons, but their season as a whole has been less than stellar. The Chargers are 4-9, an although rookie QB Justin Herbert has been impressive, it has not necessarily translated into wins just yet. Herbert got off to a strong start, but has regressed a bit in recent weeks, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions in the last three games. He is also averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt or worse in four of his last five starts. This has had an effect on the offense as a whole, as the Chargers have scored just 37 total points in their last three games, and got completely shutout against the Patriots. However, they squeaked out a win against the Falcons last week, and have the opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
These two teams met earlier in the season, with Vegas winning 31-26 on the road in LA. The Chargers actually out gained the Raiders 440-320, and Justin Herbert threw for an impressive 326 yards and two touchdowns, while Derek Carr we held to 165 yards, although he did also have two touchdowns. The Chargers dominated time of possession 34:44-25:16, and had 26 first downs compared to Vegas’ 16. If the Chargers want any shot at getting the win this time around, having numbers like these and controlling time of possession will certainly help.
Raiders Woeful Defense
The Vegas defense has been near the bottom of the league for a lot of the season, and here is where they currently rank: 30th in points per game (30.1), 25th in total yards per game (384.2), tied for 31st in sacks (15), and tied for 22nd in takeaways (15). They have given up at least 31 points in each of their last four games. Because of these woeful numbers, they fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther a few hours after the loss to the Colts on Sunday. Las Vegas named first-year defensive line coach Rod Marinelli as the interim defensive coordinator to finish the season. Could this spark a change of pace on the defensive side of the ball? Justin Herbert seemed to have his way with the Raiders last time around, and Marinelli will hope to change that in round 2.
Disappearance of the Vegas Running Game
After rushing for roughly 140 yards per game in their first nine games, the Raiders rushing attack has really fallen off a cliff in their last four games. In those four games, they have rushed for 89, 40, 72, and 79 yards. That is an average of 70 yards per game, which has added pressure to Derek Carr and the passing game, and just led to an unbalanced offense that has struggled in recent weeks. The Raiders will need to get the ground game going in this one, as the Chargers have a stingy pass defense (7th in the league), but are not as potent against the run (21st in the league). Josh Jacobs needs to get involved early and often, and that can help to open things up for the passing game. Darren Waller is as good as they get at the TE position, and he is having a great year leading the team with 84 catches, 817 yards and 7 TD’s. Nelson Agholor and Hunter Renfrow are solid options as well, and they will need to step up in this game as Henry Ruggs will not be able to play after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Rookie QB Justin Herbert is having a great opening campaign, and he is leading an LA offense that is 8th in the league in total yards with 383 per game. The Chargers air-raid attack is 4th in passing yards with 270.4 per game, but that has not necessarily led to points and wins. The Chargers are only putting up 22.8 points per game, and their red zone offense is 20th in efficiency. They should be able to move the ball against the Raiders weak defense, but translating drives into touchdowns, and avoiding settling for field goals will be key for Herbert and the Chargers in this one. Hopefully they are able to run the ball, as they have not had much success doing that this season, coming in at 16th in rushing offense with 112.6 yards per game. Herbert can air it out, but having a reliable running game will certainly help the young QB against the Raiders in this one. Herbert is two TD’s away from tying the rookie QB record for TD passes, and three away from breaking it.
This is going to be a fun game to watch. It is truly now or never for the Raiders, and the Chargers are looking to play spoiler here. Not only are the Raiders on a new defensive coordinator, but Rod Marinelli will have a tough assignment in this game. He facing a quality rookie QB with solid weapons at his disposal, and the Vegas defensive unit is plagued by injuries. The Raiders have ruled out safety Johnathan Abram (concussion/knee), CB Damon Arnette (concussion), DE Clelin Ferrell (shoulder) and LB Nicholas Morrow (concussion) for Thursday’s game. Those are four key starters to an already under-performing defense, and getting new starters ready with a new DC on a short week is a tough ask. I think that will open the door for Herbert to get back on track. He has slowed down a bit in recent games, but this is the perfect chance for him to have a big game against a depleted secondary. In addition, he should have plenty of time to throw, as the Raiders pass rush has been fairly non-existent this season (31st with 15 sacks). Defensively, the Chargers passing D is doing a great job, and Derek Carr has been all over the place in recent weeks. In his last four games, Carr has posted QBR’s of 95.6, 12.8, 65.4, and 74.6, and thrown at least one interception in all four. Add in a running game that has disappeared, along with Henry Ruggs not playing, and it might be an uphill battle for Carr and the Raiders offense in this one. Carr threw for just 160 yards in the first meeting, and I think the Chargers will be able to repeat some of that success here. I like the Chargers +3.5.
In addition, I am going with the Under. As mentioned, the Chargers passing defense has been solid, so I expect Jon Gruden to try to run the ball a lot in this game. It was their key to success when the Raiders were winning games, and the running game has really dipped recently, which I think is largely responsible for the skid they are in right now. I think Vegas will want to get Josh Jacobs involved and run the ball with success, which will keep the clock moving. For the Chargers, although I do think Herbert will have a strong game tonight, WR Mike Williams is not expected to play, and Keenan Allen is expected to be limited. That could hinder the chances of some explosive plays, and may lead to more conservative play-calling with shorter passes to Austin Ekeler out of the backfield. I’m taking the Under.
Chargers +3.5 and Under 52
Title Photo: Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports