October 24, 2015 - Joe Mason
Can the Raiders take down the Chargers this Sunday?
In Week 7 of the NFL season, the Oakland Raiders travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers in the latest installment of this AFC West battle. In terms of record, little separates the two squads in 2015. In terms of expectations though, there seems to be a rather large gulf building between Oakland and San Diego. The Chargers have been an AFC playoff contender for years now. Over the past decade, they have finished above .500 a remarkable eight times, never finishing with a record worse than 7-9. Not since the Drew Brees era in 2003 have the Chargers won fewer than seven games in a season. That run has brought with it six playoff berths, a trip to the conference title and six major award winners, the most important being LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 NFL MVP. Over that same time span, the Raiders have finished above .500 zero times, made the playoffs zero times and won a major award zero times. Not since a Super Bowl loss way back in 2002 have the Raiders found any type of success on the field. The team is also just 1-6 in its last seven matchups against the Chargers, with the lone win coming at home in Week 5 of the 2013 season with Terrelle Pryor playing quarterback. This dichotomy within the AFC West brought with it obvious expectations for each squad. San Diego is expected to be pretty good every year while Oakland has nothing much expected of it at all. That’s what makes the 2015 matchup so intriguing. The tides appear to be shifting in Oakland’s favor. With two wins apiece, both squads trail first-place Denver by a considerable margin not even halfway through the 2015 season. But one team’s 2-3 record (Oakland) looks much better than the other’s 2-4 record (San Diego). Gambling win total over-unders don’t capture the entire picture of a team’s outlook preseason, but they give a pretty good representation of how the public feels about each team. Prior to the year, these two teams’ over-unders were placed at 5.5 games (Raiders) and 8.0 games (Chargers) respectively. Now it becomes clearer why two similar records mean different things. Digging deeper, Oakland has had the better defense and has the superior point differential heading into Week 7. San Diego has yet to play a divisional game but is winless on the road and has the fourth-worst differential in the conference. The former also seems to have bright young talents on the way up while the latter is treading water (or drowning, as it were) with older players on the outs. The folks over at Football Outsiders have a number of great stats that boil down rankings into easily digestible bits. In the quarterback matchup, one would assume San Diego has the gigantic advantage with Philip Rivers behind center. Rivers does rank highly in both DYAR and DVOA, two Football Outsiders metrics that measure value in the aggregate and value per play respectively. Rivers comes in fourth in the NFL in the aggregate and seventh on a per-play basis. But not far behind is Oakland’s Derek Carr. Don’t let his poor quarterback rating fool you. Carr ranks a very solid eighth in both DYAR and DVOA. Few would tab him as a top-10 quarterback in just his second pro season, but here we are. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders have cut the difference and actually surpassed what the Chargers offer. Neither club has been great, but Oakland has had the decided advantage on defense thus far in 2015. Outside rusher Khalil Mack actually ranks as Pro Football Focus’ number-one overall edge defender this season, helping to prop up the entire defense at large. And of course special teams, the unit folks often forget to consider because it’s harder to quantify, shows the Raiders as the much better team. F.O.’s special-teams DVOA takes into account five aspects: kicks, kickoffs, punts, kick returns and punt returns. After crunching the numbers, the Raiders have the 8th-best special teams unit while the Chargers wallow all the way down at 29th thanks to poor groups in four out of the five categories. Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom for San Diego these days. Antonio Gates is still working himself back into game shape after being suspended for the first four weeks of the season. Third-year wide receiver Keenan Allen is having a stupendous season after a sophomore slump blinded people to his special first season. He is currently on pace to smash his rookie numbers across the board. Statistics can’t tell the whole story, which is why the numbers get updated as teams play more games and we find out more information. Just because Oakland ranks out higher doesn’t mean it will surely win on the field. This Week 7 game will go a long way towards determining who actually holds the upper hand in the rivalry… at least until the Week 16 rematch later this year.