The two division rivals split their meetings last season with the two road teams pulling out the victory. This season this game takes on a whole new meaning with the AFC West being wide open and both teams fighting to get off to a good start this season. We examine who has the edge at each position and how that will influence the game.
Quarterback: At their best, these two teams have two of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. There is no doubt both quarterbacks will most likely throw for more than 4,000 yards this season, but the key will be who can take care of the football the best. Both quarterbacks turned the ball over quite a bit last season, but Philip Rivers has statistically been better at protecting the football than Carson Palmer. With another year to get comfortable with his teammates Palmer will improve, but Rivers has been in the system awhile now and will most likely bounce back this season. Advantage: San Diego
Running Back: Once again these two teams have a premier starter, who can carry the team to victory. I think Darren McFadden is the better back and will most likely be the most important player in this game. When Oakland was able to run the ball last season against San Diego and did not put the game on Palmer’s shoulder, they won. However, when Palmer threw for 417 yards, Michael Bush only ran for 66 yards and the Raiders lost. The Chargers could not find much success on the ground last season against the Raiders and things get more complicated because Ryan Matthews is doubtful. That means the load will be placed on Ronnie Brown’s shoulders, but he has struggled since getting hurt in 2009 and hasn’t run for more 100 yards since Oct. 4, 2009. Advantage: Oakland
Wide Receiver and Tight End: This is the position where both teams have huge question marks and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Oakland has talent with Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, but Moore is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury. Jacoby Ford is also questionable with a foot injury and that will put a lot of pressure on rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater to put up numbers early. San Diego has two big wideouts in Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem, and an excellent slot receiver in Eddie Royal, but there is no depth outside of those three. Luckily for the Chargers, they have a premier pass-catching tight end with Antonio Gates, something the Raiders don’t possess. Advantage: San Diego
Offensive Line: Both of these offensive lines were great last season in pass protection, finishing in the top fourth of the league in sacks allowed. Both teams were solid in run blocking with finishes in the top half of the NFL in yards per rush. There are not too many concerns on the Oakland offensive line with five experienced offensive linemen. The issue for San Diego is depth on the offensive line with only eight guys listed on the roster and no backups listed on the right side in the latest depth chart. The Raiders have backups listed for all positions and their backups played well in the preseason. Advantage: Oakland
Defensive Line: The defensive line is one of the most underrated units in football and people forget how important these guys are to a team’s success. Oakland lines up two exceptional defensive tackles and two good ends while San Diego’s 3-4 scheme lacks the players on the line to put pressure on the quarterback or stop the run. The Raiders can rely on Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour to show up and perform every game and the two ends, Matt Shaugnessy and Lamarr Houston, can bring the heat on the outside. The Chargers start two ends who were mildly productive last season and Antonio Garay at nose tackle, who has a down year in 2011. Advantage: Oakland
Linebackers: This position battle comes down to the depth which Oakland lacks and San Diego possesses. The Chargers line up Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes on the interior and have two outside linebackers in Shaun Phillips and Jarrett Johnson who can put pressure on the quarterback and make big plays in the run game. The Raiders have an amazing middle linebacker in Rolando McClain, but don’t possess the weapons outside, the Chargers have. Oakland also only had one backup who has been productive, Keenan Clayton, while San Diego has talented rookie Melvin Ingram and the experienced Demorrio Williams waiting in the wings. Advantage: San Diego
Secondary: The secondary will play the biggest role for either team defensively if they want to win Monday’s game. Oakland’s struggles in the secondary last year were well-documented, but they did not address the need significantly in the offseason. The Raiders’ lone star in the defensive backfield is Michael Huff and everyone else is just average. San Diego also had struggles in the back last season, but they have more talent to turn it around than Oakland. The Chargers’ starting four of Eric Weddle, Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer and Atari Bigby is one of the best in the NFL and they should be able to handle the Raiders’ depleted receving corps Monday night. Advantage: San Diego
Specialists: This one is not even close and you can blame it on the fact San Diego still can’t find a reliable kicker. Nick Novak only hit 79 percent of his kicks last season including 66 percent from beyond 40 yards away. His Oakland counterpart Sebastian Janikowski nailed 88 percent of his kicks including 81 percent from beyond 40 yards. Janikowski’s longest field goal last year tied an NFL record of 63 yards, while Novak’s longest was a measly 53 yards. The Raiders also possess one of the best punters in the game, Shane Lechler, who boomed kicks an average of 50 yards, good for second in the league last season. Mike Scifres is in that second-tier of punters, so he’s really good, just not at the same level as Lechler at the moment. Advantage: Oakland
Coach: There is really no comparison between these two head coaches. Dennis Allen is the youngest head coach in the NFL and has only one season of experience in running an entire unit. Although a verry good coach, his inexperience makes him tough to judge especially when compared to Norv Turner, who has been coaching at some level since 1976. Turner is entering his 15th year as a head coach in the NFL and has the highest winning percentage for a coach in the Chargers’ history. His worst two seasons as a coach came ironically in Oakland, but he has rebounded in San Diego, making the playoffs in three of his first five seasons in San Diego. Advantage: San Diego
So now we know who has the advantage, but we will have to wait until Monday night to see who will come away 1-0.