KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Raiders are allowing a league-high 4.9 yards per carry, and will see plenty of Tomlinson and backup Michael Turner as the Chargers attempt to grind the game out and secure the No. 3 seed in the AFC. QB Philip Rivers will likely give way to Billy Volek if San Diego is able to pull away.
Raiders rookie QB JaMarcus Russell will make his first career start against the first 3-4 defense he has seen. He turned the ball over four times last week, and will struggle to adjust to the speed of San Diego's defense. Oakland must get a strong effort from RB Dominic Rhodes to keep Russell out of long passing downs.
Raiders: RB Justin Fargas (strained MCL) and QB Daunte Culpepper (quadriceps) were placed on Injured Reserve. FAST FACTS:
Tomlinson has eight 100-yard rushing games and 1,653 total rushing yards in 13 career games against Oakland. ... Raiders DT Warren Sapp needs 3.5 sacks to become the second tackle in history with 100 (John Randle, 137.5).
Quarterback Philip Rivers is becoming the talk of the NFL.
Not exactly with his play -- although there's nothing shabby about a 24-7 starting mark and leading your team to consecutive AFC West titles.
But Rivers is getting known around the league as a motor-mouth. He was caught by TV cameras jawing at Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler during Monday's 23-3 win over Denver.
This is nothing new, as Rivers plays with emotion and is always talking to a teammate, rival or referee. But some wonder if that could detract from his game once the playoffs start and the stakes rise.
Rivers is 0-1 in the playoffs.
The point hasn't been lost on Chargers coach Norv Turner -- Turner is one who never shows emotion.
"I know guys get caught up in it," Turner said of the jabbering back and forth. "But he's young. I've talked to him and he understands where I'm coming from. Everything is a lot more visible."
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who is among the NFL's most respected players, called Rivers "a classless guy."
"He's not a respectable guy right now, because you talk too much trash and do this and that, but you're really not a great player in this league right now." It could be sour grapes from Bailey, whose Broncos were swept by the Chargers.
But it's worth watching as the stakes grow higher after Sunday's regular-season finale at Oakland.
If Rob Ryan's job is on the line he is unconcerned.
"I'd be out of a job two minutes," the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator said. "I mean, who are we kidding? I'm not worried about it. I love the Raiders, if it happens, so be it. I'd be out of a job for two minutes."
The Raiders finished No. 3 overall in defense last season (284.8 yards per game and were No. 1 against the pass (150.8).
This season, the Raiders are 26th overall defensively and have been gashed repeatedly by opposing rushers. The Raiders are 31st in rushing defense, giving up a league-high 4.9 yards per carry and 24 rushing touchdowns -- six more than any team in the league.
Ryan is most concerned about Oakland consistently giving up yardage, such as Fred Taylor's 62-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in a 49-11 loss to Jacksonville.
"I think this year, just overall in general, we're used to leading the league in fewest big plays," Ryan said. "We've given up a lot of big plays, whatever the case may be, whether it be tackling or whatever. It's unfortunate and a little bit stunning to me, but that's the way it is. That's the way this game's been played."
The Raiders have given up 18 runs of 20 yards or more, the most in the league, and five runs of 40 yards or more, tied for the most in the league. Last season, when the Raiders scored only 12 offensive touchdowns, owner Al Davis replaced head coach Art Shell with Lane Kiffin and together Davis and Kiffin purged the entire offensive staff, while leaving much of the defensive staff intact.
All 11 defensive starters returned. Kiffin was careful not to assign all the blame to the defense.
"We definitely felt the defense was going to be the strength of our team this season, but it all goes together," Kiffin said. "There has been a number of times where the offense has not helped the defense and put the defense right back on the field, and the special teams has not won the field position battles in a number of games. We're 4-11 as a team and need to get better."
Ryan said he believes the core of the Raiders defense picked up valuable experience.
"Our young players are really developing," Ryan said. "Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jay Richardson, those guys have played great, so we're excited about them. Overall, did we think we'd be where we are statistically? No, or as a team. We thought we'd be in a hell of a lot better shape than we are, but that's life in the big city."
PREDICTION: Chargers 30-13