SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: NFL Network, Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
PREDICTION: Chargers 34-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: Attacking a defense and not leaning on Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers seems odd. But that is what this game offers, with Rivers struggling and the Raiders having so much trouble stopping the run. The Chargers showed last week, with Mike Tolbert, their run-blocking is doing OK despite missing LG Kris Dielman with a concussion. The battle inside to hold DT Richard Seymour out of the backfield is essential to continuing the running game success. With Ryan Mathews coming back, to go along with Tolbert, the Chargers should be able to lift pressure off a wobbly Rivers and lean on some old-school, smashmouth football against a rush defense which is ranked 29th in the league and was lit up for 299 rushing yards by the Broncos last week.
FAST FACTS: The Raiders have followed up a post-bye week loss with a win five times since 2002. The Raiders have lost nine straight games after their bye, including last week against the Broncos. ... The Chargers have 33 penalties in their last three games -- all losses. ... This is the 103rd regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series 56-44-2 and swept the season series in 2010 for the first time since 2001. Oakland won last season in San Diego 28-13 last Dec. 12, with Darren McFadden rushing for 97 yards and Michael Bush 95 as the Raiders rushed for 251 yards. Going into the 2010 season, San Diego owned a 13-game win streak against the Raiders dating back to their first meeting of the 2003 season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
One player who won't be complaining about the short week of practice for the Raiders is quarterback Carson Palmer.
Oh, Palmer needs plenty of practice -- so much that there may not be enough sessions in the season to get him completely up to speed.
Truth is, Palmer won't be completely in synch with his new offense and new set of receivers until he has an offseason and training camp under his belt, and that won't happen until 2012.
In the meantime, Palmer will make the best of a compacted situation.
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Palmer didn't join the Raiders until they'd played six games. He'd decided to retire rather than play another down for the Cincinnati Bengals, and it appeared the retirement option had won.
Then Raiders coach Hue Jackson gained approval on an offer Bengals president Mike Brown couldn't refuse, and it was off the couch and behind center.
Two games into his Raiders career, Palmer has thrown six interceptions in six quarters of football after never having thrown that many in back to back games in his entire career.
The first game, an off-the-bench surprise appearance when the Raiders trailed 21-0 in an eventual 28-0 loss to Kansas City, was one thing.
Throwing three more interceptions in a 38-24 loss to the Denver Broncos was another thing entirely, even if Palmer's knowledge of his surroundings remains in its infancy.
"I wish we were playing tonight," Palmer said the day after the Broncos loss. "I'm excited about the group we have, offensively and defensively. It's a god thing we don't have to wait all the way until Sunday. We get to play Thursday."
Thursday it is, with the Raiders, at 4-4, tied atop the AFC West with their opponent, the San Diego Chargers, as well as the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver lurks a game back at 3-5, and it isn't lost on Palmer and his teammates that despite their struggles, if they beat San Diego and the Broncos take down the Chiefs, they'd be atop the division.
"If we were in a big hole and we were four games back it's different," Palmer said. "This is a huge game and this team understands the significance of this game. They understand the importance of this game. We may be young age-wise on the roster but it's a professional group that understands we have a chance to be 5-4 and regardless of the record be in first place."
After going 8-for-21 for 116 yards and three interceptions in his first game against Kansas City, Palmer was 19-for-35 for 332 yards with three touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Two of the throws, in particular, were vintage Palmer as he was in his prime with the Bengals. One was a 40-yard strike to Marcel Reece on a post pattern, the other an 18-yard pass down the left sideline to Jacoby Ford.
Both were perfectly thrown, the kind of passes only a small amount of quarterbacks are capable of throwing.
But the interceptions were costly, in part due to the fact that Palmer was rusty and also because he's still learning his receivers.
"I think it was a combination of his layoff and him understanding his players," Jackson said. "Sometimes you have trust in a guy and think he can make a play that maybe you're not sure he can yet. It's something we have to address. He knows it. We've talked about it. We're going to do a better job of taking care of the ball. That's the key to our championship. We've got to take care of the football."
Palmer was light years better against Cincinnati than he was against Kansas City but wasn't prepared to say he was ready to simply let it rip.
"There's still some things I'm a little bit rusty on," Palmer said. "There are still some things I'm not quite comfortable with. But that's what I expected. I didn't expect to come in this week and be ready to rock 'n roll with everything. At the end of the day you win or you lose and you play well enough to put your team in a position to win or you don't, and I didn't."
Jackson thought enough of Palmer that he loaded the game plan against Denver with a no-huddle offense early I the game and a dizzying array of position groups, rather than simply play it more vanilla and attempt to run the ball against what the Raiders believed was an inferior opponent.
That was fine with Palmer, who accepts the challenge and believes the proper personnel groups put him in the best position to succeed.
"You can't deviate from what you do," Palmer said. "We had success in a number of instances. We ran effectively, threw effectively, but whether it was a turnover or a mistake mentally, we just couldn't consistently keep it going. To panic and change what we've been working on is not the right move. We just didn't make enough plays when it counted."
QB Philip Rivers
Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire
The Chargers have lost three straight, though, and that's a streak which needs to end.
It's "Raiders Week" in San Diego. The Oakland Raiders and the Chargers square off on national TV Thursday night, but teams with their season on the line seem equally likely to turn in either direction.
The Chargers' sizzling start has segued into a sizeable mess. They've dropped three straight, lost their sole grip on first place in the AFC West and are carrying an impressive injury list.
The Raiders have lost two straight, but the Chargers need to focus on their own woes.
Something has to give Thursday. The Chargers have a shot at unlocking the three-way tie atop the division.
But the Chargers are reeling and they need to get right quickly. They're coming off a loss to Green Bay, although it came with a dose of momentum after a valiant rally.
But the Chargers need to get back to winning -- not collecting moral victories.
It can be done. Certainly the core of the 2011 Chargers has seen their standing be a lot worse at this time of the year. But the Chargers need a win to restore confidence in the locker room.
The Chargers' shortcomings -- lack of impact players from the draft; lack of depth at key positions; a coach just one game over .500 in his last 25 games -- were on full display against the world champion Packers.
But by thumping the Raiders on Thursday the Chargers can jump-start a second half which still could have them in the playoffs.
And just maybe Rivers shakes his funk against a team he is 7-2 against with 12 touchdowns and seven touchdowns against.
"Obviously, it's a huge game for both teams," said Rivers, the NFL leader with 14 interceptions. "We have an eight-game season, three teams deadlocked at 4-4 and one team one game back and it's going to be a race starting on Thursday night."
--RB Darren McFadden was not at practice as he rehabs a right mid-foot sprain and looks to be out against San Diego, with the hope of returning Nov. 20 against Minnesota.
-- FS Michael Huff, who also serves as the team's nickel back, did not practice, with his ankle in a protective boot.
-- MLB Rolando McClain was on the field but his availability to face San Diego remained a tossup as he missed the Broncos game with an ankle injury.
-- C Samson Satele spent the early part of practice on an exercise bike with a knee injury.
-- T Khalif Barnes was on an exercise bike rather than on the field with a shoulder injury.
-- CB DeMarcus Van Dyke was watching practice from the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
-- CB Chris Johnson remains out with groin and hamstring issues and could be a candidate for injured reserve.
-- RB Taiwan Jones is again in line for more carries with McFadden out, although he only got two against Denver.
-- FS Matt Giordano could take over as the fulltime deep safety should Huff sit it out.
-- MLB Darryl Blackstock, who struggled against the read option subbing for McClain, would face a different challenge reading the play-fakes of Rivers should he start against the Chargers.
-- G-C Stefen Wisniewski would take over at center if Satele can't play.
-- Stephon Heyer will get his first start at right tackle if Barnes can't play because of shoulder injury.
-- CB Chimdi Chekwa, out for the last four games with a hamstring injury, could be in the starting lineup if Van Dyke can't play.
-- LG Tyronne Green will get his third straight start with Pro Bowler Kris Dielman still out with a concussion. The Chargers are traditionally a left-side running team.
-- WR Malcom Floyd (hip) didn't practice on Tuesday and he won't go on Thursday.
-- OLB Shaun Phillips (foot) didn't practice and will skip his second game, but there is hope he can play Nov. 20 against the Bears.
-- LG Kris Dielman (concussion) didn't practice and won't play against the Raiders.
-- RB Ryan Mathews (groin) was able to practice and minus any setbacks, is expected to play on Thursday after missing the Chargers' last game.
-- ILB Takeo Spikes (arm) was limited. This is worth watching and could hamper him Thursday. The Chargers are saying it's not a tendon issue.
-- CB Antoine Cason has been re-inserted into the starting lineup, replacing struggling rookie Marcus Gilchrist.
-- K Nick Novak might be pushing the Chargers into a difficult decision down the road. Since taking over for the injured Nate Kaeding in Week 2, Novak has converted 16-of-17 field goal and 17-of-17 extra points. Novak has been critical to the Chargers considering their red-zone woes. On Sunday, Novak hit a career-long of 52 yards.
-- FB Jacob Hester needs to shake off a shaky game in which he dropped one pass and fumbled another ball out of bounds. With the Chargers thin at running back, they would like to give Hester, a former tailback, a few carries.
-- WR Vincent Brown flashed some skills in the last game and it should help the rookie going forward. Brown, a third-round pick, had his camp derailed with a leg injury. But he's getting some chances with other injuries to teammates and on Sunday he had a career-high four receptions for 79 yards, including a long of 31.
Talk about the rivalry game between the Bolts and Raiders in the message boards.