Against All Odds
The deck is stacked against the Raiders beating the Chargers this Sunday. All the "evidence" is pointing towards a complete blowout to end the 2007 season. Vegas has laid the line with the Chargers as huge 9 point favorites. The Chargers dominated the Broncos last week 22-3 while the Raiders were destroyed by the Jaguars 49-11. The Chargers have won 5 straight games. The Raiders have lost 3 straight games. The Chargers are 10-5. The Raiders are 4-11. The Chargers have won 8 consecutive games vs. the Raiders including a 28-14 victory earlier in the season. JaMarcus Russell is making his 1st career start. The Chargers are motivated to win in order to secure the #3 seed in the playoffs. The Raiders are playing to keep their jobs. The Raiders are ranked #31 in rush D. The Chargers have arguably one of the best RBs to ever play the game in LT. The Chargers are back to back divisional title holders. The Raiders have not had a winning record since 2002. In other words, we got em right where we want em!
The phrase "On any given Sunday..." is especially true when it comes to bitter divisional rivalry games. You can throw all the statistics, records, and circumstances right out the proverbial window. This game will boil down to 3 key factors.
#1: Raiders Run D
If the Raiders are going to have any reasonable chance to upset the Chargers, LT must be contained at all costs. It will take an exceptional effort by the Raiders front 7 similar to the performances against Cleveland (Lewis, 56 yards); Chicago (Benson, 76 yards); Denver (Henry, 49 yards); Indy (Addai 44 yards). Text book tackling and winning the individual battles along the line of scrimmage will be paramount.
#2 Kiffin Is Wise Beyond His Years
Head Coach Lane Kiffin has demonstrated an innate knack for game planning, strategizing, and making subtle adjustments when playing a team a 2nd time. After facing Kansas City and losing 12-10, the Raiders bounced back with a 20-17 win on the road. After facing Denver the 1st time and losing 20-23 in OT, the Raiders played their most complete game of the year in the 34-20 victory over Denver. Besides breaking down the film and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the Chargers, Kiffin needs to lean on his leadership abilities to inspire and motivate the team to play with unbridled passion.
#3 Russell Steps Up To The Challenge
JaMarcus Russell holds the keys to the Silver and Black's fortune in his 1st start. Russell needs to be an efficient game manager by making sound decisions, proper reads, and prioritizing ball security. At the same time, Russell needs to be a true playmaker in every sense of the word by avoiding sacks, making plays with his legs and improvisation, unleashing his cannon to make game changing plays. This will be a delicate balancing act for the rookie. Sound yet spectacular. Solid yet scintillating. Cerebral yet physical. Is it asking too much of a rookie in his 1st start? Yes and no. Yes. This is undoubtably a very difficult task. No. We all have high hopes and dreams for Russell to shine when the spotlight is the brightest. In the Sugar Bowl last year, Russell's draft position and millions of dollars were on the line. A country full of captivated football fans were watching. Cool as a cucumber, Russell rose to the occasion with a stellar effort (21-34, 324 yards, 2 TD passes, 1 TD run) resulting in being named the Sugar Bowl MVP and the #1 pick in the draft. Russell's performance vs. San Diego will either confirm that he is a unique and special player or show just how far he needs to climb to become a franchise type QB.
Against all odds > Calico Jack's Prediction:
Raiders 20 - Chargers 17