The Raiders head to San Diego to face the Chargers. Both teams are coming off consecutive losses and will be hungry to not make it three losses in a row. A win for either team would also mean the division lead. Here are the storylines to follow for this critical AFC West matchup.
Palmer calling his shots
After last week's game, Carson Palmer gave us a bit of a preview of where we will see the ball next week: at number 84.
"T.J. is a quarterback," Palmer said of his former favorite target. "In his head he's a quarterback. He's extremely intelligent... I think he got his feet wet today and had a couple of nice plays... he'll have it down. I have no issues with him. I don't even need to--I took him home this week and studied with him this week and I don't have to do that this week. He'll have it down and he'll be comfortable."
So it is safe to say we will see a lot of passes going to the guy whose name bleeds over onto his shoulder pads—Houshmandzadeh.
McClain in the Middle
The Raiders' starting middle linebacker practiced on Wednesday for the first time in three weeks. He was on the sideline suited up for the loss to the Broncos last week, but he was just there as a last resort should his replacement Darryl Blackstock have to come out of the game.
Blackstock did an admirable job in relief of McClain two weeks ago when the Chiefs came to town. The Chiefs shut out the Raiders 28-0 but two of those touchdowns were interception returns. Last week, however, was a different story.
Last week Blackstock and weakside linebacker Aaron Curry looked completely lost. In turn the rest of the Raiders defense was lost. McClain has his faults but he knows this defense and his return to the lineup should help tremendously.
His practice on Tuesday was limited which means the team is taking it easy to make sure he is as healthy as possible for the game Thursday night. But there is no question that this defense needs as many of its best players as possible.
Does He (stay) Benched and Undercover Boss
After Darrius Heyward-Bey saw one pass last week, Hue was asked why his former number one receiver was riding the bench. He was also asked why starting tight end Kevin Boss didn't see a snap. He claimed it was just the team running different sets. The starters for that game were Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, and Chaz Schilens. The three wide receiver set was what eliminated the tight end from the equation, though it doesn't really explain why Brandon Myers saw a pass in the game. If Hue was being honest in his "different sets" reasoning, we should see a lot more of DHB and Boss in this game. If not then we will know there is something else going on.
Inner division collision
The Raiders will face their third straight division opponent in the Chargers. They have lost two straight games against the Chiefs and Broncos. At this point they are still tied for the division lead at 4-4 because both the Chargers and Chiefs lost last week as well. The Broncos win put them within a game of the division lead at 3-5.
If the Raiders lose on Thursday, they would be behind the eight ball in the race for the division title. It would mean they have only won one game all season inside the division. It would also mean they would either split or be swept by every other division opponent this season. The division race is a tight one (obviously) and if there are any tiebreakers at the end of the season, the Raiders would very likely lose that tiebreaker. So, like last week, they still control their own destiny. But if they lose this week, that will no longer be the case.
Pick a winner
Carson Palmer has played for the Raiders a total of six quarters. In those six quarters, he has thrown six interceptions. Philip Rivers has been an interception throwing machine lately as well, throwing seven interceptions in the Chargers' current three game losing streak. So who will have more interceptions on Sunday?
Palmer has the excuse that for his first three interceptions, he had been with the team all of five days and didn't know more than a handful of plays. His receiver also fell down on one of them.
Rivers has no excuse for his mistakes. He is just playing erratic. So it would stand to reason that Palmer will continue to get better and therefore his mistakes will be fewer. I agree with that statement.
However, I still see Palmer having more interceptions. First off, if you look at the Raider defense, they don't force a lot of turnovers. There isn't a single member of the Raider defense that has more than one interception. Stanford Routt plays well on his receivers but he doesn't turn and pick off passes often. On the other side Lito Sheppard will be starting and we have no idea what to expect from him, though I wouldn't expect much from him as the Raiders have been the only team even remotely interested in signing him this season and that should tell you something.
Secondly, look at the offenses. By that I mean the Chargers have a great one. I expect them to score a lot of points and put the Raiders in desperation mode which will translate to interceptions. I put it at Palmer with two interceptions and Rivers with one, which is an improvement for both of them.
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