The Oakland Raiders made a lot of headline-making moves in the offseason but all it has gotten them is a 2-5 record and a current four-game losing streak. The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, are a team that very few people expected to be in the mix but here come the Chargers with a 4-3 record and one game behind the AFC West leading Denver Broncos.
The last time the Raiders won a road game came on Dec. 8, 2002, in a 27-7 win over San Diego. The two teams split last year's game with the home team winning each contest. Here's a closer look at Sunday's matchup:
Raiders on offense: Quarterback Kerry Collins was much more calculated in taking his chances last week with the vertical passing game. As a result, wide receiver Jerry Porter responded with his best game of the season.
The problem Oakland faces Sunday is that its running game, which was supposed to be a huge improvement under first-year head coach Norv Turner, has not materialized. Missing Tyrone Wheatley is part of the problem. The Chargers are allowing the second fewest rushing yards per game while the Raiders are generating the fourth fewest.
Rookie right tackle Robert Gallery has been a bright spot. Like most rookies, he has had his ups and downs but held New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant, the NFL leader in sacks without one and to just one tackle. The Chargers hiring of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator means the Raiders will face a base 3-4.
Chargers on offense: Any, Marty Schottenheimer offense is going to rely on ball-control and field position. It begins and ends with running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Throw in the fact that he has one of the best blocking fullbacks in Lorenzo Neal and you have a tough day. The Raiders defense against the run has been checkered and will have to be at its best to slow down Tomlinson, who might be the best all-around back in the entire NFL.
Perhaps the biggest difference for San Diego has been the improved play of quarterback Drew Brees. The San Diego receivers are nothing to write home about but Brees has two constant security blankets to throw to in Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates.
Another thing that can pose a problem for Oakland is that the Chargers are No. 6 in third-down efficiency while Oakland has had its problems on third down defensively.
Special Teams: The Raiders coverage units have been, for the most part, less of a problem under position coach Joe Avezzano but Oakland is still having issues with untimely penalties and turnovers. This is one game, however, where watching punters might be exciting as this game features two of the game's best in Oakland's Shane Lechler and San Diego's Darren Bennett.
Bottom line: This is another throw out the records rivalry as these two teams typically play tightly contested battles. You have a consistent running back in Tomlinson and a flaky Oakland run defense. Hard not to go with the Chargers but who knows in rivalry games.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org