By Merlin Edwards III
It is an intense and jolly feeling to be a fan of an NFL team that always finds a way to win games. Depending on your team, some people rarely get the chance to indulge in the glory of winning professional football. Oakland Raiders fans seem to finally be feeling a sense of intense joy and optimism for a team that has lacked such emotion since now adults, were small children.
After beating the previously 3-0 Ravens in Baltimore, the Raiders look primed and ready to have a good stretch of wins and set themselves up nicely for the playoffs. It took heart, skill, passion, luck, talent, and all of the above to pull out win #3 on the road. Oakland showed poise both offensively and defensively when it mattered most and it is showing that this young team is truly learning how to win. In 2015, the team was starting to come into its own and play sound, competitive football. This year, however, the Raiders have moved past that and have the "it is time to win now," mentality. The rookies that were inserted into the starting lineup against the Titans, a week ago, are starting off well and are looking like potential leaders of a young defense. Aforementioned rookies, Cory James and Karl Joseph, have been on fire by leading the team in tackles in consecutive weeks. Sean Smith and D.J. Hayden have also been playing much better in the secondary and the Raiders defense is starting to look like it is ready to step up and help win games. They started off awfully, yes, but as I have previously written, defenses in the NFL always start off slower than offenses. With this Oakland group fielding multiple new starters, (even in the past 2 weeks) they were bound to have some growing pains. Granted, nobody expected them to be that historically bad to start the season, but they are evolving every week into a much more serviceable group.
The Silver and Black offense looks like it can flat out beat anybody. The Ravens defense is one of the best in the NFL and the Raiders were still able to put up 28 points on them while finishing drives in the end zone in crucial points of the game. The Raiders are in the top 10 in points per game (7th), total yards per game (3rd), pass yards per game (8th), rush yards per game (5th) and if that doesn't spell elite, I'm not sure what does. They still haven't played a full 4 quarters of football without stalling out and looking stagnant, yet they still have such numbers. The best stat about this offense is that they are 11 of 12 scoring touchdowns when in the red zone. Think about that, the Raiders have scored a touchdown 11 times with 12 attempts inside the 20 yard line...it sounds crazy but the numbers back it up, Carr and the Raiders offense is elite. No matter how good the opponents defense, the Raiders will be able to score points. Fortunately this week, the Raiders have a really good opportunity to keep on rolling, stay elite, and demolish the San Diego Chargers in Oakland.
The Chargers have the makings of a good team on paper, but have not played up to par so far this season. They have been competitive, but have not been able to hold on and gave up 4th quarter leads all 3 times this season. They have had quite a few key injuries already and the Raiders have a good chance to put this team away early.
San Diego's top defensive back, Jason Verrette was lost to a knee injury last week and second best DB Brandon Flowers is out with a concussion. Top string linebackers, safeties, and offensive tackles are also out for the Chargers. The Raiders should be able to beat the Chargers with their full squad, let alone an immensely banged up one. Don't get me wrong, Philip Rivers is nobody to underestimate, and with a healthy team his offense would be great, but the Raiders are still the better team. Division games are always tough though, and even with Oakland on a role, they have to play this game as well or better than they have played all season. They must handle this game with care. Even though the defense has been playing better, Rivers will always be able to put up points because he is just that good. The defense has to keep getting better and if they can't completely shut the Chargers down, they have to carry-over their bend and not break mentality. Look for Kahlil Mack to continue his rise and get Philip Rivers on his back. Once Rivers is dirty and second guessing his makeshift offensive line, he will start to panic and throw intercept-able balls that the Raiders secondary has to take advantage of.
Expectations are getting higher and higher for the Oakland Raiders and if they keep winning, support will be coming from everywhere. They have not been good at home in the recent past and they need to turn that around. Good teams win on the road, of course, but they also win MORE at home. The Raiders have started to learn how to win games, now it is time to start dominating your home field and it starts this week. If Oakland is able to hold the Chargers offense at bay and attack San Diego's banged up defense, they should win this game handily at home.
My Prediction: Chargers 17, Raiders 35