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By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The odds remain long but the San Diego Chargers are still playing meaningful football deep into December under first-year head coach Mike McCoy and revitalized quarterback Philip Rivers.
The same can't be said for the Oakland Raiders, who are enduring their 11th straight season playing .500 football or worse.
Oakland hasn't had a winning campaign since finishing 11-5 in 2002 en route to losing Super Bowl XXXVII to Tampa Bay. In the ensuing 11 campaigns the Raiders are a combined 53-121, topping out with 8-8 records in both 2010 and 2011, with seven different head coaches. The latest Oakland mentor is Dennis Allen, who is 8-22 since taking over the program in 2012.
Allen got the Raiders gig largely off his performance as Denver's defensive coordinator in 2011. McCoy, of course, was the Broncos' offensive coordinator at the same time so the two mentors know each other quite well and Allen got the best of his friend in Oakland back on Oct. 6, a loss that weighs heavily on the Chargers, who enter Week 16 a game behind both Baltimore and Miami in the race for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
San Diego stayed alive last week with its most impressive performance of the season, a 27-20 win over Denver in the Rockies. Ryan Mathews ran for 127 yards and a touchdown and Rivers tossed a pair of scores to rookie star Keenan Allen in that one.
The Chargers, who snapped Denver's 10-game AFC West winning steak, held the ball for nearly 39 minutes and converted 6-of-12 third downs.
"Time of possession is only important if you're scoring," said Rivers, who became just the sixth player in NFL history to register five different 4,000- yard passing seasons, bringing his 2013 total to 4,048.
Denver tallied 127 yards on its first two drives of the game, but totaled just 168 yards the rest of the way. The Broncos' 295 total yards and 20 points were a season low.
"The longer you keep the ball and the less he (Manning) has it, the better off you're going to be," McCoy said.
The Raiders, meanwhile, are coming off an embarrassing effort during a 56-31 loss to Kansas City. The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles racked up 195 receiving yards and five total touchdowns in a record-setting performance in that one as Kansas City secured a spot in the AFC Playoffs.
Kansas City also received big games out of quarterback Alex Smith and its opportunistic defense en route to sewing up the postseason berth just one year after tying for the league's worst record at 2-14.
Smith threw five touchdown passes in all while completing a sharp 17-of-20 throws for 287 yards, while the Chiefs forced seven turnovers in posting their second straight lopsided victory on the road.
Rashad Jennings had a pair of rushing touchdowns while gaining 91 yards on a season-high 23 carries for Oakland (4-10), which was dealt a fourth consecutive loss. McGloin finished with 297 yards and two touchdowns on an 18- of-36 completion rate.
"Hopefully those guys can learn from those mistakes," said Allen. "Its tough when you're going through a learning process. As the losses mount up, it gets frustrating. It gets frustrating for everybody, but we've got a job to do. We've got to go out there and try to win football games."
Oakland leads the all-time series 58-47-2 but the Chargers have won eight of the past 10 contests in San Diego.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
To reach the playoffs San Diego needs to win out and hope both Miami and Baltimore each lose its final two games meaning the Chargers three-year postseason drought will more than likely continue.
One of the main reasons they are in such a precarious position was the 27-17 loss suffered in Oakland back in October when the Raiders' defense picked off Rivers three times and forced a pair of fumbles.
"We can lament and kick ourselves for those losses or we can worry about what we can control and that's two games left in the season," Chargers star safety Eric Weddle said.
That's the way you have to approach things. Take care of your own business first and hope the other chips fall in your direction.
Since that game against Oakland Rivers has rebounded to throw 15 touchdowns against just four interceptions in the ensuing nine games. He has generally been solid all year but San Diego's much-maligned defense also came up big in Denver, holding the NFL's most powerful offense to season lows in points (20), rushing yards (a dismal 18) and passing yards (295).
The unit is in a good position to carry that over this week against a team which isn't exactly bursting with playmakers. McGloin had a career-high four interceptions last week and has eight total over his past four games.
The Raiders have also been using Terrelle Pryor as a change of pace at quarterback but he has been even more careless with the football than McGloin.
'We're getting used to it," said McGloin when asked about the back and forth at QB. "We do it throughout practice and throughout the course of the week. The coaches are doing what they feel puts us in the best position to win."
McGloin's biggest threats are Jennings, who is averaging 89.8 rushing yards with six TDs over his past six games, along with receivers Rod Streater, who is 154 yards away from becoming the first Oakland wideout with 1,000 since Randy Moss in 2005, and Andre Holmes, who has caught 14 balls for 257 yards over his past three encounters.
McGloin himself has amassed a solid 90.7 passer rating in his three career road starts.
The Oakland D has faltered mightily recently, surrendering nearly 35 points per game over the past seven weeks, worst in the NFL over that span. The group has also allowed almost 120 yards on the ground per game during its current losing streak and has really had trouble in space as evidenced by Charles' effort last week.
Conversely Mathews has been red-hot of late, amassing 230 rushing yards over his past two contests. He now needs just 80 more yards to set a new career- high (1,091 in 2011).
"We've got to do a great job of tackling in space," Allen said. "That's an area that we've got to work to improve on, because we can't let screens behind the line of scrimmage go for big gains like that."
Rivers is an impressive 28-6 as a starter in December, throwing 62 TDs and just 17 picks in those games. He'll likely continue to improve on those numbers against the moribund Raiders but the pot at the end of this rainbow isn't going to be the postseason.
"We always seem to make it interesting," Rivers said. "We are a .500 ball club that's going to fight like crazy to get the next two."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 34, Raiders 14
12/19 13:54:17 ET