It's going to be a season of ups and downs for the Silver and Black and it's going to take time to get this program on track. Ride the Bolts on Monday Night Football and don't look back.
Way back in the offseason, the Chargers actually opened as slight +1 point underdog, but it can't come as a surprise that they've slowly become the -1 favorite (odds courtesy of SBRforum). Despite San Diego's poor play in recent years, the Raiders have been just as inconsistent.
Seeing Is Believing?
If there are two more perplexing teams in the NFL than the Chargers and the Raiders, be sure to let me know. The Bolts tease us year in and year out with gaudy stats and a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball. Every year, they seem to be on the verge of going all the way.
Yet here we are questioning whether they are even relevant anymore? Football Outsiders has argued that most of Rivers' mistakes last year were mostly due to his bad decisions rather than bad luck or intervening circumstances, and his preseason interceptions sure don't put those questions to rest.
Undrafted Mike Harris is slated to get the start at left tackle to protect Rivers' blindside. He's just happy to have survived the final cut and now he's tasked with the second-most important job on the field. The WR position is a big question mark after Vincent Jackson jumped ship, Roscoe Parrish got cut and Vincent Brown got injured.
Finally, Ryan Mathews is made of glass and is very questionable to get back in time for Week 1.
After Eric Weddle, the defensive secondary is another red flag. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are each in big need of a bounce-back season and Brandon Taylor and Atari Bigby are questions at safety.
Norv Turner should've been fired, but, out of desperation, the front office instead fired both coordinators.
If I haven't scared you off from this pick by now, by all means keep reading so we can get to the positives.
The Black Hole or The Twilight Zone?
Thankfully, this is not 2011. Each year presents new opportunities and I can't pass up the chance to tarnish the new shiny version of the Oakland Raiders.
I used to be a big fan of Carson Palmer when he was putting up big numbers in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that Palmer is playing on borrowed time. He's never had experience with the West Coast offense, and he hasn't exactly looked comfortable running it in the preseason.
If you think Rivers is a good bet for an interception, go ahead and double down on Carson Palmer, too.
The saving grace for Palmer is that he has a stud (when healthy) behind him in RB Darren McFadden. Also, there is some continuity on the Oakland offensive line, though one question mark up front is Stefen Wisniewski, who has been moved to center despite having very little experience at the position and who hasn't been able to stay on the field because of injuries.
The other downside is a guy like McFadden might not even matter if Palmer doesn't show better accuracy and more patience in the pocket—high requirements for Greg Knapp's system. I think this is going to be problematic, because his receivers are banged up and unproven when healthy.
These issues could give the Chargers secondary a chance to get off to a good start.
Defensively, the Raiders are finally abandoning the four-man rush and man-to-man cover scheme to which Al Davis was long so committed. The new Raider defense is expected to present multiple fronts that mix up schemes, zones and blitzes.
The main issue will be whether or not these guys can cover all the areas of the field in the passing game. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer barely played last year, and a healthy Antonio Gates will present matchup problems over the middle. The front-four is a solid group, but none of the DEs are speed-burners off the edge.
Now let's finish with why I like the Chargers in this matchup.
First is the return of Nick Hardwick to practice. Center is one of the most underrated, but most critical, positions in football, and I didn't feel completely confident in this pick if Hardwick were to miss the opener.
Next, I really like all the reports about Gates this preseason. I'm not sure he'll stay healthy all year, but I'm only concerned about this game and he appears good to go.
Finally, I'm most excited about the changes on San Diego's defense. On the DL, Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes lead the youth movement. I love the addition of Jarret Johnson at linebacker, and 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram is poised for a big rookie year.
Even LB Larry English is turning heads this preseason.
Nate Kaeding is back at kicker and could have a leg up (no pun intended) on Sebastian Janikowski's gimpy preseason form.
As outlined, the Chargers are not a team without question marks, but for me there's lot more to like than what I'm seeing from Oakland.
The Raiders are going in the right direction, but they still lack depth, a quality passing game and game-breakers on defense.
NFL Pick: SD -1.
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