Week 18 of the NFL season is finally here! The NFL playoff picture is finally shaping up, with almost every playoff spot already claimed. However, there are still a few playoff spots being fought over, like the 7-seed spot in the AFC.
The Los Angeles Chargers currently hold that spot, but they aren’t safely in the playoffs just yet. Their Sunday Night opponent, the Las Vegas Raiders, are playoff race, in 8th place. That means that if the Raiders manage to beat the Chargers on Sunday Night Football, then the Raiders snatch the final playoff spot from the Chargers. Now, there is a way for both the Chargers and Raiders to make the playoffs. However, that would require that the Chargers and Raiders tie, while the Indianapolis Colts, who sit in 6th place in the playoff race, lose. This is the Chargers-Raiders preview.
*Update: The Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, so the scenario where the Chargers and Raiders both make the playoffs is plausible.*
The Rematch on Primetime
The last time these teams played each other was all the way back in Week 4 on Monday Night Football. The Chargers won that matchup 28-14 in dominating fashion. now, the Raiders may be looking for revenge, and on primetime yet again. The Chargers-Raiders matchup initially was not meant to be a Sunday Night matchup, but the NFL decided to flex this game to Sunday Night. Now, the NFL world’s eyes will be on the Chargers and Raiders.
The Chargers are currently favored by ESPN’s Football Power Index to win this matchup. The Chargers, according to ESPN, have a 58.2% chance to win this game, and the spread favors the Chargers at -4.5. However, the Raiders should not be underestimated in a win-or-go-home situation. This Raiders squad has overcome so much adversity this season, from former head coach Jon Gruden’s early departure, to several players on the team being arrested, that their tenacity cannot be questioned. It’s impressive that they are even in the playoff race at this point in the season. Therefore, the Chargers need to prove that they deserve it more than the Raiders. The Chargers need to go into this game “playing up” to their opponent, unlike their matchup against the Houston Texans. The Chargers cannot win this matchup if they do not treat this game like their own Super Bowl.
Matchups To Watch
Rashawn Slater vs. Maxx Crosby (Pt. 2)
Rashawn Slater has proved that he was well worth the 13th pick in the NFL Draft. If anything, he has proved that he should’ve been picked earlier in the draft. Even as a rookie, Slater has played like one of the top offensive tackles in the NFL, and not just among rookies. Slater even earned a Pro Bowl selection this year. Pretty good for a rookie offensive tackle.
Facing off against him again is Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby. Crosby has been having a career year, with a 90.7 rating on ProFootballFocus. His 35 solo tackles is good for 10th in the league among edge rushers, and his 8 sacks is good for 27th among all edge rushers. Crosby’s level of play this season earned him a Pro Bowl nod as well this season. That means that this Slater vs. Crosby matchup is now a matchup between Pro Bowl-level players.
Justin Herbert vs. Derek Carr
Justin Herbert is teh face of the Chargers franchise. After a stellar rookie year, in which Herbert broke several rookie passing records, many were wondering whether he would even be able to improve on his rookie year. Well, Herbert certainly did improve on his rookie year. Herbert was nominated to the AFC’s starting quarterback role in the Pro Bowl, beating out the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen for the honor. Herbert is fourth in the league in passing yards (4,631) and tied for fifth in passing touchdowns (35). With a 89.4 rating on ProFootballFocus, Herbert deserves all the roses for completely turning the Chargers’ franchise around.
Derek Carr is an interesting case. Perennially undervalued by NFL fans, yet not great enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Carr is in a weird limbo where no matter how good he plays, he won’t get praise for it, but if he has one bad game, he will be blamed entirely for a loss. The fact of the matter is that Carr is a solid quarterback. He has the fifht-most passing yards, behind Justin Herbert (4,618) with 21 passing touchdowns, tied for 13th in the NFL. Carr’s legacy is a weird one, but one thing that can’t be questioned is his sheer grit and tenacity in overcoming all the obstacles the Raiders have faced this season.
Final Summary and Predictions
The Chargers and Raiders both need to win this game to get into the playoffs. Sure, they could tie and both get in, but no teams go into a game looking for a tie. Regardless, the Chargers face a major challenge for themselves this week. Can they play to their potential when it matters most? Or are they going to crumble under the pressure?
Chargers fans should be confident going into this game. Sure, the game is in Las Vegas, meaning the Chargers will be playing on the road, but the Chargers have always been a strong away team. The Chargers are hungry to get into the playoffs, just as much as the Raiders. Not to mention, the Chargers are just overall a better team than the Raiders. Chargers fans should expect aa win tonight, provided the Chargers actually open up hot. This has been the Chargers-Raiders preview.