SNF Preview: Potential win and in scenario in Vegas for Raiders and Chargers

Tonight will see two 9-7 AFC West sides battle it out to claim the final AFC Wildcard spot, barring the Colts beat the Jaguars, which let’s face it, should happen. If JAX somehow pull off that win, a tie will be enough for both teams, setting up a pretty interesting scenario. The Raiders are the home side for this matchup, but the Los Angeles Chargers are actually favoured by 3. 

Las Vegas Raiders Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia has done a pretty good job at keeping the ship afloat after the sudden Jon Gruden exit, whilst Chargers rookie HC Brandon Staley has put together a winning season at first attempt. But who will make the postseason? Let’s take a look at both teams and pick a winner

Quarterback Focus: Both Carr and Herbert are having good years

This is one of only a few Week 18 matchups with good quarterback play on both sides of the ball. Derek Carr and Justin Herbert are both performing at a very high level this season. The former had a lights-out start to the season but has started to come down to earth a bit, whilst the latter has got stronger as the year has gone on.

Back in Week 13, I criticised the Chargers very conservative offense, because I thought that it was holding back Justin Herbert. He can be so much better than what he already is if you allow him to stretch the field more. You’ve got the weapons for it. I have to be honest since then it’s got better, but watching their games since I’ve noticed if anything Herbert needs so much more praise than he’s getting. He’s been playing elite football. The Chargers quarterback leads the league in his position in EPA, (expected points added) which measures how much better the player or team has played than expected with the situation around them using ESPN’s win probability model. He’s also PFF’s 3rd highest graded QB (89.4) and has been the best in the league at protecting the football, having the lowest turnover worthy play percentage in their model (1.5%)

Carr is an interesting one because he’s a different guy under pressure, compared to with a clean pocket. He ranks 10th in passer rating from a clean pocket, but only 22nd under pressure. There’s a big swing when looking at the comparison between the amount of turnover-worthy plays and big-time throws. From a clean pocket, Carr has got the 3rd best BTT%, and joint 2nd best TWP %, compared to the 13th best, and 7th worst percentages under pressure. He’s average under pressure, but you can’t ignore how good he’s been when protected. You have to applaud the guy, he’s put up one of his best seasons in a pretty adverse situation. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in that building over the last few months.

A brilliantly dealt with difficult season for the Raiders

Las Vegas got off to a hot start, sitting at 3-0 before the Week 4 loss on MNF to these very Chargers. Another loss followed, this time to the Bears before the Jon Gruden emails came to light. Those horrible remarks had the coach gone by their Week 6 game in Denver. Interim HC Rich Bicciacia won that game, and the next one at home to the Eagles heading into the bye week. The team was forced to release Henry Ruggs after his tragic incident coming out of the bye week, an emotional story that hit the team hard right before their away game to the Giants. That paired with the interim bump fading, saw three straight losses occur heading into Thanksgiving (Week 12.) The Cowboys were the opponent on the primetime game on the Thursday, and ended up the losers in that one, with the Raiders pulling off an unexpected win in overtime. Three weeks ago the team looked out of it at 6-7, but have found a real groove, especially defensively as the season has gone on. 3 straight wins against teams in the hunt have put Vegas into the win and in situation tonight.

Denzel Perryman was a great pick-up before the season began, he’s already an important piece in Gus Bradley’s defense. Hunter Renfrow is slowly becoming one of my favourite players in football, he’s the guy on offense. The slot receiver can get open incredibly easily, amounting in a tonne of receptions, especially across the middle. He’s on target for over 100 receptions (currently sitting at 99), and has put up 1025 yards and 7 TD’s on the year. And then there’s the pass rush. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue are pretty damn difficult to block, amassing in 16 sacks between them. The former is PFF’s 3rd highest-graded edge defender. They’ll be hoping Darren Waller is good to go tonight, he’s averaging 12.1 yards per reception in the 10 games he’s played this year. Josh Jacobs is also questionable, he’s their undisputed lead back now that Kenyan Drake has gone down for the year. If he can’t play Peyton Barber will get the carries.

How did the Chargers get here?

As for the Chargers, they had a pretty tough start to the season, but managed it well, sitting at 4-2 heading into the bye week. 3 impressive wins against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns contributed to that record, whilst they were manhandled by the Ravens and played Dallas close but ultimately fell short. Coming back from the bye the team was unfortunate to lose to New England 27-24, but bounced back the next week beating Philadelphia, the scoreline the same as the week previous. Another two close games followed, one a win in Pittsburgh, the other an entertaining loss at home to Minnesota the week before. Down the stretch, they had a couple out of character games in Denver and Houston, but also a statement win against the Bengals, and handed the Giants a massive L.

Brandon Staley is another of the new wave of young innovative head coaches with an aggressive approach to the game. He’s caused a stir this season by going for it on 4th down in some of the traditionally weirdest situations. Staley believes that the approach statistically gives the team the best chance to win the game. You can’t really criticise it either, yes that way of going about things has cost them games, but they’ve also won a fair few close games too. It works both ways. It’s starting to become a bit of a trend in the league. 

Rashawn Slater has done exactly what he was drafted to do, protect Justin Herbert, whilst Derwin James has played the majority of games for the first time since his rookie year. The o-line in general has played lights out, especially when you compare it to last year’s unit. Corey Linsley was a great free-agent addition, as was Matt Feiler who’s so far put up the best PFF grade of his career. Finally, you can always rely on Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams to produce, whilst Josh Palmer has impressed me as a rookie. 

Prediction

I’m torn with this one, both these teams deserve to be in the postseason. Right now I’m going to have to side with the Chargers. Especially if Waller and Josh Jacobs don’t suit up. By more than 3 points too.

Los Angeles 31, Las Vegas 25

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