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NFL Preview - San Diego (7-8) at Oakland (8-7)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In the movie "White Men Can't Jump", Woody Harrelson said Wesley Snipes would rather look good and lose than look bad and win.
The Oakland Raiders have been at the opposite end of that phrase and proved it after the team squeezed out a 16-13 overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs at a raucous Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Eve.
"An ugly win is better than a pretty loss," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
No matter how it's sliced, the Raiders' playoff hopes will be on the line Sunday versus the AFC West-rival San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Coliseum. They can clinch their first postseason berth and division title since the reaching the Super Bowl in 2002 with a win over the Chargers coupled with a loss by Denver to the Chiefs. Though Kansas City has been eliminated from postseason contention, Oakland is hoping the Chiefs have one more win left in them.
The Raiders still have a shot at a Wild Card spot if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee both lose on Sunday. A Bengals' loss to Baltimore and a victory by the New York Jets over Miami will also work out in Oakland's favor.
Ending a nine-year playoff drought would lift the spirits of a Raiders organization that has dealt with the death of legendary owner Al Davis and an injury to starting quarterback Jason Campbell this season. Palmer was acquired in a trade with Cincinnati back in October to suppress the feeling of loss when Campbell went down, and led the team to a 24-17 win over the Chargers in San Diego on Nov. 10.
Palmer passed for 299 yards with a pair of touchdown strikes and an interception in that game, while running back Michael Bush was the workhorse with 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Bush carried the load again in Saturday's win over Kansas City, compiling 70 yards on 23 carries in a poor showing from both offenses. Palmer was picked off twice, but rebounded to lead his team into scoring range with a 53-yard passing play to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the first play of overtime. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski then nailed a 36-yard field goal 2:13 into the extra period to keep Oakland's fortunes alive.
"We had a little motion, a little ghost fake and Darrius kind of came up under control and then hit it on a corner route, and what a great throw by Carson," Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said of the connection that set up the game- winning field goal. "That was Carson at his finest right there, in my opinion, and that's what he�s got to be for this football team, and that's what I expect he will be for this football team. He's just got to keep pushing."
The Raiders ended a three-game losing streak and won for the fourth time in the past seven weeks.
San Diego was eliminated from postseason consideration with a 38-10 loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions last Saturday. The Chargers' hopes were entering Ford Field on a three-game winning streak after losing the previous six games, but it was not to be following a rough offensive display.
The seat under head coach Norv Turner went up a few degrees with the loss as quarterback Philip Rivers reverted back to his turnover-prone ways. Rivers was interception-free in the previous four games before being picked off twice in Detroit, one of which was returned four yards for a touchdown by Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.
"They beat us," Rivers said afterward. "During that six-game stretch, that's the one thing we could hang onto was we were in every game. We had a chance. We didn't get beat like this. This is one of very few in a long time that we've been beat like this and you've got to give them credit."
The Chargers will miss the playoffs for a second year in a row after entering the postseason tournament five times in a span of six seasons. The last time they finished with a record below .500 was a 4-12 mark back in 2003 under then- head coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Oakland has a 57-44-2 record in its all-time regular-season series with San Diego and has now bested the Chargers three straight times after the above- mentioned win at Qualcomm Stadium back in November. The Raiders registered a home-and-home sweep of San Diego in 2010, following up a 35-27 home victory during Week 5 of last season with a 28-13 triumph later in the year, but the Chargers had topped Oakland 13 consecutive times prior to those two results. San Diego took both 2009 meetings between the clubs, posting a 24-20 decision at the Coliseum in that year's season opener and completing the sweep with a 24-16 home verdict.
The Raiders will be attempting to defeat San Diego four straight times for the first time since taking each matchup between the 2000 and 2001 campaigns.
These two longtime rivals have faced off just once in the postseason since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, with Oakland claiming a 34-27 road win in the 1980 AFC Championship.
Turner, who served in the same capacity with the Raiders from 2004-05, owns a 7-4 overall record against his former employer and is 6-3 versus Oakland since taking over in San Diego in 2007. Jackson won his only previous encounter with both the Chargers and Turner as a head man when the Raiders prevailed in Week 10.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
Another late charge by San Diego was squelched last Saturday in the Motor City as Rivers (4314 yards, 24 TD, 19 INT) was intercepted twice in addition to hooking up with Malcom Floyd on an 11-yard touchdown reception. It was too little too late for that connection, however, and Rivers has one more game left to boost his stats. Pegged in the preseason to possibly hit the 5,000-yard passing mark, Rivers will fail to reach that mark but has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of the last four seasons. His 19 interceptions on the year are a career-high, hover, though he has thrown a touchdown pass in eight consecutive contests. In the loss to the Raiders in November, Rivers was 23- of-47 for 274 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and an interception. He has faced the Raiders 11 times in his career, compiling 2,412 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Running back Ryan Mathews (1,091 yards, 6 TD) was going through a rough patch at the time of the first meeting with Oakland and posted just 34 yards on six carries in that one. He was also held to 58 yards on 11 carries in Detroit after entering the game averaging 113 rushing yards in the past four weeks. A more productive Mathews against Oakland will open up San Diego's passing game.
The Raiders were lucky to keep their playoff aspirations intact after allowing 435 yards of offense to the Chiefs, who used five ball carriers that included quarterback Kyle Orton to rush for more than 100 yards on the afternoon. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (27 tackles, 6 sacks) used his hands and arms in proper fashion by blocking two field goal attempts in the game, the first to end the first half and the second to force overtime. The Raiders also recorded two interceptions, one each for safety Matt Giordano (66 tackles) and cornerback Stanford Routt (46 tackles), and players are tied for the team lead in that category with four. Giordano also led the unit with a game-high 10 tackles last week. Oakland will once again look to shut down Mathews and San Diego's ground game on Sunday as well as preventing from having the referees decide the game. The Raiders committed 15 penalties for 92 yards and failed to record a sack against the Chiefs. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (57 tackles) leads the team with seven sacks, while tackle Tommie Kelly (39 tackles) is second with eight and Seymour third with six. Safety Tyvon Branch (103 tackles, INT) posted five tackles last week and leads the team in that department this season.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Bush (911 rushing yards, 7 TD) hopes to have the same type of success he had in the first matchup with San Diego. The powerful back is aiming for the first 1,000-yard campaign of his career and is one touchdown shy of matching a personal best of eight established in 14 contests a year ago. The former Louisville star exposed San Diego's defense back in November, and the team is hoping he can do it again. Bush has been filling in nicely for injured running back Darren McFadden (foot), who's not expected to play again this week. Palmer (2,336 yards, 11 TD, 15 INT) didn't anticipate throwing 15 interceptions this season, but understands he is in a learning curve with his new team and not too many can comprehend a new system right off the bat. He has gotten better in recent weeks, but needs to be sharp on Sunday with a playoff spot possibly on the line. Heyward-Bey (55 receptions, 3 TD) has come on strong lately and didn't even record a catch the first time the Raiders faced San Diego. The former first-round pick has a chance for the first 1,000-yard receiving campaign of his career, while rookie Denarius Moore (30 receptions, 5 TD) leads the team in touchdown grabs and recorded 123 yards on five catches versus the Chargers back in November. Heyward-Bey and Moore combined for 164 receiving yards last week.
It didn't help that San Diego scored a season-low 10 points against Detroit, and the defense suffered because of the offense's struggles. The Lions racked up 440 yards of offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford was 29-of-36 for 373 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. The secondary had trouble stopping Pro Bowl wideout Calvin Johnson, who posted 102 yards and a score on four receptions, though safety Eric Weddle (83 tackles, 7 INT) did his best to prevent Stafford from completing throws with two passes defensed. Cornerbacks Antoine Cason (47 tackles, INT) and Quentin Jammer (50 tackles) have to play much better this week against Heyward-Bey and Moore, otherwise it could be deja vu all over again. Safety Steve Gregory (61 tackles, 1 INT) led the Chargers with eight tackles in Detroit, with linebacker Donald Butler (86 tackles, 2 sacks), defensive end Vaughn Martin (45 tackles, 1 sack) and nose tackle Cam Thomas (20 tackles, 4 sacks) each having a sack last Saturday. Outside linebacker and team sack leader Antwan Barnes (40 tackles, 11 sacks) was limited to two tackles by the Lions, and had the only sack for San Diego in the first meeting with Oakland.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Floyd (58 receptions, 4 TD) has recorded 96 and 95 receiving yards, respectively, in each of his last two games and has scored in back-to-back contests. He also owns three touchdowns over the past four games and wasn't healthy enough to face Oakland the first time. The Chargers could have used him that day, but now he's back at full strength for a Chargers' offense that is sixth in passing yards, total yards and points scored. Tight end Antonio Gates (59 receptions, 6 TD), who also passed Charlie Joiner for the Chargers' all- time record in receptions in the game against the Lions, will try to help his team extend an NFL record to eight consecutive seasons of scoring at least 400 points.
The Raiders' defense must stop Mathews from getting into any sort of a rhythm if they have any plans on making it to the postseason. They also have to remember that even though Rivers had a lousy day last week, he's still a proven gunslinger and can pass his team into the win column on any given week. Wimbley, Seymour and Kelly must disrupt Rivers' timing and confidence, and Oakland hopes poor tackling doesn't turn out to be an issue.
The turnover battle usually decides the outcome of football games. The Chargers are 4-0 this year when taking the ball away more than they turn it over this season, while Palmer has thrown 15 interceptions on the year and has six in the past three weeks.
Oakland came out on top against the Chiefs last week even though it was troublesome in stopping the run. The Raiders need to play better on defense, and their struggles on that side will ultimately cost them from ending a strenuous playoff drought at the hands of the rival Chargers. When a team is no better than 25th in the league against the pass, rush, yards allowed and points allowed, it's tough to make it to the postseason. Jackson said Davis told him before he passed that this team "will win it in the end." That will turn out to be far from the truth, as the Chargers probably feel that if they can't throw their hat in the playoff ring, then they won't let the Raiders do so either. Misery enjoys company, and San Diego will relish in Oakland's demise in the season finale.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 26, Raiders 17
12/29 18:10:52 ET