And what opponent could be better? The Chargers are aiming for their 12th consecutive win over their hated rival, the Raiders.
But the Chargers' real target is blasting through the regular season and doing something different in the postseason.
The Chargers should cruise through the AFC West, which will guarantee a playoff invitation. A few wins above the required number to reach the playoffs could bring with it a bye and home games.
It all makes sense -- then we remember it's the Chargers and something wacky usually happens.
And that was before Shawne Merriman's latest incident.
Just possibly the Chargers learned their lesson last year and that will catapult them from the gate. That could mean bad news for the wobbly Raiders and the other rivals lined up early.
The Chargers were 4-8 last year and looking into a playoff-free January. But they rallied, the Broncos collapsed and it was everyone walking on the sunny side of the San Diego street.
The players swear they have learned their lesson. That starting 2-3 like they did in 2008 or 1-3 like in 2007 isn't in their plans.
HC Norv Turner
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson sees teammates putting in the work and not as giddy about talking about what may come.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, who is 6-0 as a starter against the Raiders, thinks what lies ahead isn't that tied to the past. That's why the Chargers have to get busy and make a championship mark stamped "2009".
"Each game stands on its own," Rivers said. "We've had a good streak going, but each game is new. Each year is new.
"We're all 0-0 going into this season. Monday night, you really couldn't ask for a better setting starting in the division against Oakland."
The Chargers could start their trek toward winning their fourth straight AFC West title -- something they have never done.
But what they really want is something they have done but once -- reach the Super Bowl in Miami.
"I'm excited about the maturity level of our football team," Turner said. "I'm excited about the way they've prepared themselves for the season and I'm excited about what they got done in the preseason. There's a total different focus and mindset."
SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. The Raiders lead the series 54-42-2 but have dropped the last 11. No other team in the long history of the Raiders has beaten them that many times in a row. That makes the Chargers' latest run even more impressive -- as well as it being against the Chargers' biggest rival. The teams' biggest meeting was the AFC championship game in 1980. The Chargers were gunning for their first Super Bowl before getting pushed aside 34-27 at home.
--The San Diego County Attorney's Office is looking at a report from the Sheriff's Department regarding the incident with Shawne Merriman and TV personality Tila Tequila. Merriman was arrested Sunday morning after Tequila said she was held against her will and Merriman assaulted her. The attorney's office will decide if the matter will be continued.
QB Philip Rivers said the team will be able to focus on the Raiders and not Merriman's legal woes. "Our team has battled through distractions and anything that's been thrown at us," he said.
OG Louis Vasquez
--Some think Merriman has some ways to go before he returns to form after knee surgery. Coach Norv Turner isn't one of them. "He looks awfully good to me," Turner said. "I think he looked the most explosive he's looked against the 49ers (in the preseason finale). I think he's going to keep being more explosive and more confident as we go through the season."
--Ron Rivera starts his first full season as the Chargers' defensive coordinator. Rivera took over midway through last year after Ted Cottrell was fired. Rivera held the same position in Chicago, where he also played linebacker.
--LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 1,906 yards and 19 touchdowns against the Raiders. Those are best career-highs against any opponent.
--The Chargers have won eight straight games in their powder blue jerseys, which they'll be wearing Monday night.
--New DE Travis Johnson figures to see plenty of action in his first game with the Chargers since coming over from the Texans. "I'm ready to get this game going," he said. Johnson was considered a first-round bust with Houston, but will get plenty of chances to prove himself in San Diego with the Chargers thin along the line.
--The Chargers shot down an assertion by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that Qualcomm Stadium could be refurbished. The Chargers are still seeking a new stadium in the San Diego region -- without any luck.
--The Chargers' road trip will be short and brief. The team returns to play six days after the Raiders' game against the visiting Ravens.
BY THE NUMBERS: 30 -- Tomlinson's age after celebrating a birthday in the offseason. In NFL history five running backs at least 30 years old have gained at least 128 yards on opening day.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not hard to feel like that when it's Week 1 and the Raiders.'' -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson on feeling excited for the season opener on Monday night.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
It will be interesting to see how ILB Kevin Burnett fits in in his first year on the Chargers defense -- he is the only starter defender who is new to the team this year.
The team has been impressed with Burnett's speed since he came over from the Cowboys. Some, though, thought he would contribute mostly on passing downs. But he has shown he can be stout against the run and for that reason he beat out Tim Dobbins in training camp.
Still, he will be working inside with Stephen Cooper and outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. It's probably nothing Burnett can't handle, but it's worth watching.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
DE Jacques Cesaire
--WR Legedu Naanee is coming off a solid training camp and could be utilized more than in the past. He is a perfect piece if the Chargers employ the Wildcat offense.
--Despite having $6 million invested in him as the franchise player, RB Darren Sproles will still return punts and kicks. The Chargers are taking a bit of a chance here considering Sproles' slight frame, but that is where he is also most dangerous.
--CB Antonio Cason returns as the nickel back and the only backup on the corner as the team is carrying only three cornerbacks.
--DE Vaughn Martin is still raw after coming out of college in Canada to make the team. But the Chargers' depth at end took a hit when they had to put Ryon Bingham on IR with an arm ailment. That will fast-forward Martin getting on the field and the Chargers are hopeful his learning curve comes quick.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers want to run the ball and they want LaDainian Tomlinson to do it -- and why not. Tomlinson has rushed for more than 100 yards on six occasions in Oakland and he figures to get another shot on Monday night. The Raiders are banking on a better run defense this year and that aim gets a great boost if Richard Seymour shows up after being peddled to Oakland by New England. If not, the Raiders are going to have to prove for once they can stop Tomlinson. Plus, if Tomlinson can get rolling, it would provide a nice confidence boost for RG Louis Vasquez and a front line unit that took its share of shots last year. Don't think for a minute Philip Rivers will be shy about flinging the ball around. But the Chargers have had so much success riding Tomlinson in Oakland that there is no reason to saddle him up one more time.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers RG Louis Vasquez vs. Raiders DT Gerard Warren.
Vasquez is making his first NFL start. He was going to be brought along slowly after the Chargers invested in veteran Kynan Forney in the offseason to replace Mike Goff. But Forney tweaked his neck in camp and Vasquez came on strong after a foot injury. The team released Forney, plopping Vasquez into the starting lineup. Warren, a veteran with four sacks in each of his past two seasons in Oakland, will give the kid everything he wants with his size and moves. If Raiders fans are revved -- and with a 7:15 p.m. kickoff that is a given -- then Vasquez could be slow off the ball because of the noise. Vasquez was playing in the Texas Tech spread offense this time last year.
The Chargers' pass rush vs. Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell.
The Chargers figure to get after Russell and it will be up to his offensive line -- led by Robert Gallery -- to keep him upright. The Raiders are hopeful they have made strides in their offensive line and that notion will be tested by the return of an amped Shawne Merriman at OLB. Merriman will be the focus, but don't overlook Shaun Phillips on the opposite side and rookie Larry English, the 16th overall pick in the draft. Merriman's knee is still rounding into shape so he won't be out there every snap -- but if he's on, it might seem that way.
Chargers coverage teams vs. Raiders return man Johnnie Lee Higgins.
The special teams showed a few leaks in the preseason, and that is to be understood with fringe roster players asking to fill roles. But if the Raiders are to stay with the Chargers, they are going to have to win some field-position scrums and there is no better way to do that by leaning on a good return man. Higgins is just that as he returned three punts for touchdowns last year in setting a Raiders team mark. Kassim Osgood and Mike Tolbert are the key guys for the Chargers on the coverage units and they have to be on their game.
--DE Jacques Cesaire (calf) missed most of training camp and all the preseason games. He's a go for Monday, but there is a question of how he will respond to fatigue.
--WR Buster Davis (knee) didn't practice Wednesday and could be out Monday.
--LB Jyles Tucker (hamstring) has returned to practice.