The San Diego Chargers (2-2) can avoid a 2-3 start for the fourth year in a row simply by beating an opponent they have not lost to since 2003 on Sunday. The Oakland Raiders (1-3) have dropped 13 straight meetings with San Diego (-6 @ Diamond Sportsbook), although they covered the spread in both games last season as double-digit underdogs.
Oakland is coming off its first home loss of the season, a 31-24 setback to Houston last week. The last three games for the Raiders have been decided by a touchdown or less, and they lost to the Chargers by an average of six points a year ago. They will need to do a better job of protecting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski if they have any hopes of breaking their skid this week after he was sacked four times, threw two interceptions and fumbled twice against the Texans.
Gradkowski still put up decent numbers vs. Houston, completing 24 of 39 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns. But the Raiders had a difficult time running the ball and saw Darren McFadden injure his right hamstring, making him questionable for this game against San Diego. McFadden carried the ball 12 times for 47 yards and is tied for third in the NFL in rushing with 392 yards. He would be replaced in the starting lineup by Michael Bush if he does not play.
The Chargers have not enjoyed playing away from home so far this season after losing a couple of close games at Kansas City and Seattle. They had opportunities to at least tie both of those games at the end though and have destroyed their two opponents at home, winning by an average of 28 points. San Diego hopes to follow Houston’s lead by running the ball successfully against Oakland and appears a lot healthier in the offensive backfield than two weeks ago.
Rookie running back Ryan Mathews returned from an ankle injury in last week’s 41-10 rout of Arizona, rushing for 55 yards on nine carries and scoring his first NFL touchdown on a 15-yard run. Mathews backed up starter Mike Tolbert (16 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown) and expects to get an increased workload as the season goes on and he remains healthy.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers faltered in his previous two comeback attempts on the road and will look to avoid that scenario altogether against the Raiders. Rivers rallied his team back multiple times in the first meeting with Oakland last season, with Darren Sproles scoring the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds remaining. Before that game, San Diego had beaten Oakland by at least 10 points in each of the last four trips there.