After both the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders had disappointing seasons last year, the opening game of the 2012 NFL season is very important for both teams.
The AFC West was won by the Denver Broncos last year with a record of just 8-8, so every division game is crucial because tiebreakers could be a factor at the end of the year.
Injuries are going to be important for both teams, especially at the running back position. Raiders running back Darren McFadden and Chargers running back Ryan Mathews have battled injuries over the last year and give their respective teams a much better chance to win when they step on the field.
Let's look at a complete preview of this important early-season battle between division rivals.
Where: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
When: Monday, September 10 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Listen: Rock 105.3 FM, Sirius Radio Channel 94
Betting Line (via Bovada): Raiders -1
What's At Stake?
The Raiders and Chargers finished 8-8 with the Broncos last year but lost out on a playoff spot because of tiebreakers.
Since this is a division and a conference game, it is very important because a win or loss from Monday night could decide one of these teams' playoff fate in December.
Chargers Injury Report (via ESPN)
RB Ryan Mathews is doubtful.
Raiders Injury Report (via ESPN)
WR Denarius Moore and WR Jacoby Ford are questionable.
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit' Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: Start Antonio Gates at tight end because he is one of quarterback Philip Rivers' safest targets and the Chargers' best threat in the red zone. Expect a huge game from Gates versus the Raiders.
Sit 'Em: Sit Ryan Mathews, because even if he plays against the Raiders, don't expect him to receive that many touches as he works his way back from injury.
Sleeper: Ronnie Brown will benefit the most if Mathews isn't able to play the full game on Monday night. Whenever he's on the field, Brown is a threat in both the running and passing games.
What They're Saying
Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune has an update on Mathews ahead of Week 1.
Whether Ryan Mathews (shoulder) is ready for contact remains to be seen. But he is back practicing.— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) September 3, 2012
Chargers Player to Watch: Philip Rivers
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had an awful year in 2011, at least by his standards. If he wants to be considered a top-five quarterback again, he needs a bounce-back season.
Against a Raiders defense that had trouble against the pass last season, Rivers will have no excuses if he has a poor performance in the season opener.
Raiders Player to Watch: Carson Palmer
This is a huge year for Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, who needs to lead the Raiders to the playoffs or he could be looking for a job next summer.
Palmer has plenty of weapons to work with on offense and must prove that he is still capable of not making too many mistakes. Interceptions were a problem last season for the veteran quarterback.
Who will win this game?
The battle between the offensive and defensive lines will be important because both teams like to run the football.
Both quarterbacks will want to establish the running game early so they can use the play-action pass later in the game, so look for the running backs to be featured heavily in the first half.
Whichever team can dominate the line of scrimmage will win the game.
Raiders win, 24-21