The race for the AFC West division is heating up, as all four teams have a legitimate chance of coming out on top.
This Thursday night's game featuring the Raiders and the Chargers will certainly be full of conviction, as both teams still have plenty to play for.
And with the Kansas City Chiefs also in the driver’s seat and the Denver Broncos only a game back, the AFC West looks like it will come down to to the last breath.
Let’s take a look at 10 keys that will influence the race for the AFC West title.
Considering how devastating the game of football is on the body, players need as much rest as they can.
The Chargers and the Raiders play Thursday night in San Diego, only four days removed from respective loses. Each went through grueling paces for the full four quarters and will surely not be fully recuperated.
Not only are both squads going into each game with a short week of rest, they have no time to properly recover from knocks and bruises they may have taken just four days ago.
The physical side of the game is not the only facet that is sacrificed on a short week.
Having only four days in between, preparing for your next opponent becomes extremely crunched and extremely critical. Both Oakland and San Diego were exposed in their Week 9 losses, and with plenty in need of addressing, sometimes the days leading up are just not enough time to appropriately do so.
Any team will tell you that it takes a full week to properly prepare, but both the Raiders and the Chargers don’t have that luxury, and the winner come Thursday night is the team who can utilize their shortened time the best.
Mistakes are certainly part of the game, but when examining the current state the Raiders and the Chargers, carelessness is synonymous with both teams.
Philip Rivers has been uncharacteristic all season, and both the offense and defense have been erratic for large parts of the season. The same can be said for the Raiders, and reckless mistakes of either side could prove to be the Achilles heel this Thursday.
The winner of this game is the team who keeps their errors to a minimum, because I have a feeling they are going to be quite a few regardless.
The coach of the San Diego chargers has had a pretty extensive coaching career, which spans over three decades
He was part of two Super Bowl winning teams and a NCAA national championship squad, and has worked with some greats over the years. His tenure in San Diego has been pretty successful as well, and is highlighted by three straight AFC West titles from 2007 to 2009.
Turner’s Chargers always seem to get going towards the latter half of the season, and a big key to this divisional race will be how the veteran coach handles his team. He has injuries to deal with and a struggling quarterback to straighten out, so it is not going to be an easy task.
Jackson is quite the opposite of his coaching counterpart.
After being named the newest Raiders head coach, Jackson has his team going through a roller coaster type of season. The death of iconic owner Al Davis hit the organization hard, and it seems Oakland has been driving on emotion for much of the year.
The inexperienced coach is no slouch, though, and he has led his team to victory in some pretty big games. While not as traveled as Turner, Jackson is still very influential to his team and he can use that power to his advantage as the division unwinds.
It has been a very frustrating season for the usually tidy quarterback.
He will be the first to tell you that this hasn’t been his best season, and Rivers is finding it easier to find opposing defensive backs than it is his own receivers. An epic collapse against the Chiefs a few Monday’s ago should give clear indication into how the Chargers’ captain is felling right now.
Regardless of how poor he is playing, though, his teammates trust him and Rivers knows that. He has won the division for San Diego plenty of times before, so it would be stupid to think that Rivers would not be a big factor down the stretch.
It took a while for Darren McFadden to get going in this league, but ever since adjusting, the powerful running back has been nothing short of breathtaking.
While his talent is unquestionable, he needs to get healthy and get back on the field for the Raiders. When he is on, he is virtually unstoppable and could single-handedly decide the fate of Oakland’s playoff hopes.
Gates is one of the greatest tight ends to play this game, but that hasn’t stopped people from calling him out lately.
And while his numbers haven’t noticeably dropped either, he has been hurt a lot and is finding it difficult to dress on game day. Many are quick to criticize the Pro Bowler because the offense revolves around Gates and his productivity.
As a reliable target to Philip Rivers, Gates is vital to San Diego’s charge because Rivers needs all the help he can get. The defense is pretty frail at the moment so the play of the offense, notably Gates, is a huge factor.
If you haven’t noticed, there is a trend for both teams, and it involves injuries to key players.
San Diego played their last game without Ryan Matthews, Malcom Floyd and Shaun Phillips, who are all starters. And McFadden’s status is looking doubtful this Thursday, leaving coach Jackson without his star tailback.
Each team has major health concerns, and the advantage goes to whichever team gets their team back to full fitness the quickest. It is hard to win a division without your strongest components, and as the weeks pass and certain players are still sidelined, panic time grows nearer and nearer.
Time is running out for both squads to stake a claim for the division, so this game on Thursday is huge in itself.
Dying for any sort of momentum, this contest is a must-win for either side. Making a statement in a divisional game is one of the best ways to boost confidence in the locker room, and a shove in the right direction is just what both squads need.
Thursday is the perfect time to make a statement, but who is it going to be? I expect this to be classic AFC West matchup filled with bad blood and ramifications.