Raiders roll into San Diego in playoff mindset (Dec 18, 2016)
The Oakland Raiders are on the verge of ending a 14-year playoff drought.
A victory over San Diego will do the trick and the Raiders are focused on securing the long-craved postseason spot when they visit the Chargers on Sunday.
Oakland (10-3) is tied for first place in the AFC West and has a two-game lead in the wild-card chase with three games to play.
The possible realization of the goal prompted quarterback Derek Carr to reminisce on his rookie campaign of 2014 -- when saying things were bleak seems a bit kind.
"Starting 0-10 was not fun. It makes these moments so awesome," Carr told reporters. "It makes these moments really cool to already have 10 wins and those things. I know for our team, our sole focus is beating the Chargers because if we don't, we're still sitting there hoping and wishing. Our focus is just going down to San Diego and trying to come out with a win."
The Chargers (5-8) won't be part of the playoffs and also face an unclear future. San Diego voters shot down a stadium proposal last month and the team moved closer to a relocation to Los Angeles on Wednesday when NFL owners unanimously approved a tenant-lease contract between the Chargers and Los Angeles Rams.
The Chargers have until Jan. 15 to exercise an option to move to Los Angeles. Team president Dean Spanos has repeatedly stated he won't announce a decision until the season in over.
Sunday's contest could be the next-to-last home game in San Diego and it will be one in which standout running back Melvin Gordon misses due to hip and knee injuries.
Undrafted rookie Kenneth Farrow and recent pickup Ronnie Hillman will share the ball-carrying duties.
Gordon has rushed for 997 yards and is craving the 1,000-yard mark after experiencing a disappointing rookie season in 2015 so he is hopeful his season isn't over.
"It would mean a lot but I'm just going to take it for what it is," Gordon told reporters. "If I feel I can go back out there and be ready, I'm going to go back out there. ... I know my body. If I can go out there and feel I can be productive, then I'll be out there. If I can't, we've got the guys who will make it up for me."
The Chargers' most promising young defensive player is also ailing. Rookie defensive end Joey Bosa sprained his neck in last Sunday's 28-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers but he will play after not being listed on the injury report Friday.
Meanwhile, Carr has enjoyed an MVP-caliber season with 3,492 yards and 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
But he also is coming off an atrocious performance in a 21-13 loss to the Chiefs on Dec. 8. The combination of frigid conditions and an injured right pinkie finger didn't help as Carr was 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards.
The showing was easily Carr's worst of the season but he made it clear his finger had nothing to do with the sub-par effort.
"It was just execution -- literally inches," Carr said. "There's a whole bunch of plays that I think about that we always hit and for whatever reason, we just missed by an inch. Sometimes that happens in practice and you never want it to happen in a game. This time it did."
Carr's favorite target is second-year receiver Amari Cooper, who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight campaign. Cooper, who has 73 receptions, ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,010 receiving yards.
Oakland leads the NFL with a plus-15 turnover margin and is receiving remarkable play from standout defensive end Khalil Mack.
Mack is tied for third in the NFL with 11 sacks and has recorded at least one in eight consecutive games, two off the record shared by DeMarcus Ware (Dallas, 2007-08) and Simon Fletcher (Denver, 1992-93). Mack is shooting to become the first player with a sack in nine consecutive games in a single season.
Mack also has forced five fumbles and his presence can't rate as a comfortable feeling for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Though he has passed for 3,589 yards and 27 touchdowns, Rivers also has been intercepted a league-worst 17 times. He was personally responsible for five turnovers in the loss to the Panthers -- three on interceptions and two strip-sack fumbles -- as the Chargers' turnover count grew to an NFL-worst 30.
"I know better than that but at the same time I don't want to stand back there and throw balls away and get beat 35-3," Rivers said. "It just felt like that was the way it was going, and again, that is no excuse to make some bad mistakes and turnovers."
Oakland has prevailed in the past three meetings, including a 34-31 home win on Oct. 9. Carr passed for 317 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, while Rivers passed for 359 yards and four touchdowns and was intercepted twice.