4 keys to a Las Vegas Raiders win against the Los Angeles Chargers

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders host the Los Angeles Chargers for final game of the regular season, literally, on Jan. 9 for Sunday Night Football at Allegiant Stadium. Kickoff is at 5:20 p.m. and will be televised on NBC.

The 272nd NFL game, which is the greatest number of games in a single season in NFL history, will feature two squads that are vying for a playoff spot.

Here are four keys to a Las Vegas Raiders victory:

1. Win and you’re in for the Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers

The playoff picture is set up entering Sunday night for the winner between the Raiders and Chargers to clinch a playoff spot and for the loser to go home, most likely.

The Raiders can also clinch a playoff spot if Indianapolis loses, and Pittsburgh loses or ties. In a third scenario, Las Vegas can also clinch with a Colts’ loss and a Raiders tie.

Ultimately, quarterback Derek Carr said he wants to get the victory and get revenge from the early season loss a few months ago, while not worrying about the other NFL games before the Raiders play.  

“For me, I’m not going to watch anything,” Carr said. “I hope the TVs are all off. I hope no one’s watching and I hope our complete focus is on winning the football game. If we can keep that and someone comes up to me and says, ‘hey, we’re in.’ OK great. I still want to go out there and still want to beat the Chargers.”

2. Las Vegas Raiders must contain Los Angeles Chargers offense

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Oct 4, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass Las Vegas Raiders during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last five games, the Chargers have averaged 33.8 points per game, including last week’s 34-13 victory against Denver.

During that five-game stretch, sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert has thrown for an average of 280 yards, while completing 70% of his passes.

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who leads Las Vegas with 10 sacks this season, said the entire Raiders defensive trench will do whatever it takes to get to Herbert.    

“Four equals one,” Ngakoue said. “Four D-lineman getting to the quarterback at all costs and that’s what we plan on doing. We plan on playing with relentless effort, playing with our keys and our techniques and that’ll help get the job done.”   

In addition to Herbert, the Chargers offense has its weapons in running back Austin Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

In the first matchup a few months ago, Herbert completed 25-of-28 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, Ekeler carried the ball 15 times for 117 yards with a touchdown as well as recording three receptions for 28 yards and another touchdown.

The Raiders were able to contain Williams to one reception for 11 yards. However, Allen led the team with seven receptions, but only got 36 yards for it.

If the Raiders defense can get off the field for the offense, the Silver and Black will be in good shape as the team is 8-0 this season when having a time of possession north of 30 minutes, including last week’s win when Carr and the offense had the ball for 31:03.

3. Get the offense going early  

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Oct 4, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (99) and defensive end Joey Bosa (97) battle against Las Vegas Raiders offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood (70) as Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) drops back to pass during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

One of the keys to Raiders past three wins has been scoring early. Against Indianapolis and Cleveland opening drive touchdowns helped fuel Las Vegas throughout the game and leading up to both victories.

The Raiders are 7-3 this season when scoring first.

Three weeks ago, wide receiver Bryan Edwards scored the opening touchdown in Cleveland. Last week, running back Josh Jacobs scored on the first drive against the Colts.

The running game is something the Raiders will have to succeed at on Sunday night as the Chargers allow the third most rushing yards this season along with the most rushing first downs.

Jacobs has only one game of more than 100 rushing yards on the season, which came two weeks ago when he carried the ball 27 times for 129 yards in the 17-13 victory over Denver.  

4. Darren Waller could return for the Las Vegas Raiders

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Oct 17, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) celebrates defeating the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders tight ends Darren Waller and Derek Carrier are nearing for a possible return.

Carrier, who has been sidelined with a chest injury, was designated to return from injured reserve on Wednesday and could return to the field if Las Vegas makes the playoffs.  

Waller, who has been out since Thanksgiving dealing with a hip injury while also landing on the COVID-19 reserve list was practicing in limited fashion on Wednesday and Thursday. The 29-year-old has the chance to be on the field in Sunday’s regular season finale.

The Raiders could possibly run their 3-tight ends sets along with Foster Moreau, as they did earlier in the season if they make the playoffs.  

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said potentially having Waller back could give the team a spark.     

“It’s good to have him out there in the huddle and see him move around,” Olson said of Waller. “We’ll get a chance (Friday) to see where’s he at. Again, he’s our premier player and has been really for the time he has been here. I think players on the offensive side of the ball and defensive side would agree with that.

“He’s our best player. Another strong leader, strong leader in the huddle and strong leader on the field and we’ll be really excited if he’s ready to go on Sunday.”

Despite just two touchdowns this season, Waller recorded almost 1,200 yards and had nine touchdowns a season ago.

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