Chargers Ready to burst into first?

Just days ago, the Chargers were widely recognized as the most disappointing team in the NFL. Now, they are preparing to battle the Oakland Raiders for first place in the AFC West. A win would allow the Chargers to shake their losing record before the bye week.

Time to exhale, Chargers fans.

The Chargers welcome the Raiders on Sunday, after disposing of their three-game losing streak by smacking the Broncos, 41-3. It marked the Chargers' second straight win in Denver, something they haven't done since 1967-68.

"It's a big win, but it's just one," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We've got a big game next week."

Recently, the Chargers looked at the Raiders as an easy mark. Why not, after winning seven consecutive against their bitter rivals?

But this year the Raiders roll into San Diego with their chins off their chest and alone in first place in the AFC West. And the Chargers are aware of it.

"They'll be pretty confident I would imagine coming in 2-2," center Nick Hardwick said.

Hardwick, who helped the Chargers to 214 yards rushing in Denver, said the Raiders' offense has closed the gap with their defense.

"I've watch them on offense and they seem to be doing a pretty good job up front -- a lot better than they have been," Hardwick said. "They have a new coach (Lane Kiffin) in there that is kind of doing some good things with their offensive line. It is definitely helping their running game; I know they have committed to the zone run pretty good."


Shaun Phillips
Doug Pensinger/Getty

That will be on linebacker Shaun Phillips and teammates to stop.

"They got some playmakers over there but we just got to worry about the Chargers," Phillips said.

Neither team frets about not being primed for this matchup. While the Chargers have won seven straight in this series, this pairing always makes for good theater.

"The fans are so into it," Phillips said. "Living in San Diego there is just this mindset to beat them. It's like the fans say, 'Dude, you can lose every game, just beat the Raiders.' But we know it's out of love and respect for the game because they want us to win every game."

Phillips said the matchup gets more buzz with the Raiders (2-2) entering with a better record than the Chargers. While the Chargers have won two of the past three AFC West titles, the Raiders over that span have gone 2-14, 4-12 and 5-11.

In the past three meetings, the Chargers have outscored Oakland, 82-24.

Added Phillips, on the Raiders: "Their team hasn't been as successful as it has in the past. But they were always good games and fun because it is always going to be competitive because it is a rivalry game."

The Chargers will be challenged to establish a running game, although Tomlinson has done well against the Raiders. Tomlinson has seven 100-yard rushing games against the Raiders, including his career-high of 243 yards. In both wins last year over Oakland, Tomlinson went for over 100 yards.

Still, Hardwick knows whatever yards are gained will be well-earned.

"Their defense has never been their problem," Hardwick said. "It's a good defense for our offense to play. It's a pretty solid challenge because they have good players all over their defense. It's not an easy week."

Hardwick said the Raiders will be tougher because now the Raiders believe in themselves.

"They got more confidence in their game," Hardwick said. "They are not the Chicago Bears of this year."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson enters the week fresh from his best 2007 showing. He amassed 140 yards on Sunday, with 73 coming off three receptions.

--RB Michael Turner proved again he's likely the top backup running back in the NFL when he rushed for 147 yards and a score on 10 carries in the Denver win. Turner is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

--FS Marlon McCree, who had struggled the two previous weeks, rebounded in a big way. He had four tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

--ILB Matt Wilhelm (calf) returned to the lineup after missing the two previous games. Wilhelm fared well with six tackles and solidified the run defense.

--ILB Brandon Siler can't work his way into the base defense but he keeps contributing on special teams. The rookie had a 23-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in Denver.

--WR Eric Parker (toe) is still at least three weeks away from returning.


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