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Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders: Who has the edge?

LA Daily News logo LA Daily News 1/8/2022 Gilbert Manzano, Los Angeles Daily News


When: Sunday, 5:20 p.m.

Where: Allegiant Stadium

TV/Radio: NBC (Ch. 4); 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish); Sirius 81

Line: Chargers by 3 points

Notable injury designations: Chargers: LB Drue Tranquill (questionable; ankle), DT Joe Gaziano (out; ankle)

Video: Chargers' chances in Vegas hinge on run defense (NBC Sports)

Replay Video

Raiders: TE Darren Waller (questionable; knee), RB Josh Jacobs (questionable; ribs), CB Casey Hayward (questionable; ankle), DT Johnathan Hankins (questionable; back)

What’s at stake? The winner of Sunday’s night showdown gets a playoff berth – unless the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Indianapolis Colts, creating a path for the Chargers and Raiders to both advance if they settle for a tie. But the struggling Jaguars (15½-point underdogs) beating the Colts is more likely than these longtime AFC West rivals not competing to win. The last regular-season game of the 2021 NFL season is packed with intriguing storylines, from Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr exchanging trash talk in the previous matchup to former Chargers players and coaches now standing in the way of the current Chargers team.

Who’s better? The Chargers get the slight edge because they have one of the best offenses in the NFL, according to most analytics websites. Quarterback Justin Herbert and company have delivered some duds this season, most memorably against the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and in their first meeting against the Denver Broncos. But the Chargers have had a lot of high-scoring performances and they have been consistent lately, scoring at least 28 points in each of their past five games.

The Raiders’ defense has made noticeable improvements under the guidance of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who operated the Chargers’ defense the previous four seasons. Former Chargers Denzel Perryman and Casey Hayward are big reasons why the Raiders have turned it around defensively this season, but they’ll have their hands full against their former teammates. The Chargers present matchup nightmares with wide receiver Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler. But the Raiders feature a standout pass-rushing duo in Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue.

Matchup to watch: Chargers slot cornerback Chris Harris Jr. vs. Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who has 99 catches for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Renfrow has done most of his damage from the slot position, which could give the Chargers’ defense trouble. Harris had a shaky start to the season, but he’s found his footing in the past month. If the veteran cornerback struggles to slow Renfrow, Chargers coach Brandon Staley might consider moving safety Derwin James to the slot to defend Renfrow. Staley referred to Renfrow as a “premium inside receiver.”

Chargers win if: … They improve defensively on third downs. Carr is capable of putting the Chargers’ in several third-and-short situations with Renfrow, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller. The latter two, however, will be game-time decisions because of injuries. The Chargers have improved on third down in the past month, but they’re still ranked last in the NFL with a opponents’ third-down conversion percentage of 49.7. Usually, when James, Bosa and defensive tackle Justin Jones are on the field together, the Chargers play better against the run and are able to put teams in more third-and-long situations. That defensive trio is healthy and available for Sunday night.

Fantasy sleeper: Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton is due for a downfield touchdown and it could come against the Raiders, especially if the defense is focused on containing Allen and Williams. Guyton had a three-game touchdown streak between Weeks 13 to Week 15. But he was held to 10 receiving yards last week against the Broncos and didn’t play the prior week against the Houston Texans because of COVID-related reasons.

Prediction: Most Chargers-Raiders games come down to the final minute and this one won’t be any different. Look for Herbert and Carr to exchange multiple touchdowns in a chaotic fourth quarter before heading to overtime. James will seal the 34-31 overtime victory for the Chargers with an interception to send his teammates to the postseason. That’s a very detailed prediction, but it wouldn’t be surprising if madness occurs on Sunday night.


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