The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders kick off what promises to be one of the most intriguing, intense and competitive division races in recent memory on Sunday at 9:25pm (UK time).
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Las Vegas Raiders team news
When last we saw them, the Raiders were outlasting the Chargers in the Prisoners’ Dilemma Bowl, the win-and-you’re-in-the-playoffs 2021 regular season finale which came with a fascinating twist: in the event of a tie, both teams would have been postseason-bound. That game ended regulation in a 32-32 tie, which endured until the literal final minute of overtime, when a timeouts call by Charger head coach Brandon Staley (debate amongst yourselves whether he should have called it or not) opened the door for a final push into field goal range, and the kick that sent the Raiders into the playoffs, and the Chargers on vacation.
Rather than rest on their laurels and look to quietly consolidate, the Raiders have opted to take a serious run at contention. Over the offseason, general manager Mike Mayock was fired, interim head coach Richie Bisaccia was not retained, and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was brought in as his permanent replacement. Then, star edge rusher Maxx Crosby was re-signed to a four-year, $94 million extension. Then, the team made some under-the-radar deals – signing former Titans linebacker Jayon Brown and former Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett, and trading edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts for solid fourth-year (to be) corner Rock Ya-Sin – to bolster all levels of the defense.
Then the franchise splashed some cash, $52.5 million over three years, to acquire one of the top pass rushers of the past quarter-century, Chandler Jones, who, though now 32 years-old, is coming off of a Pro Bowl campaign with the Cardinals, in which he 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 26 QB hits. Then, of course, came the greatest sign of intent: trading first and second round picks in the 2022 draft for a top-three (if not ‘top one’) receiver (and close friend and former college teammate of QB Derek Carr) Davante Adams, who, alongside star slot receiver Hunter Renfrow (103 catches, 1,038 yards in 2021) and uber-athletic tight end Darren Waller (55 catches for 665 yards in just 11 games in 2021) promises to make the Raiders’ air attack downright deadly.
There’s no denying that in a vacuum the Raiders have put together a high- quality team, chock full of top-end talent. Whether or not it all goes to plan in one of the most competitive divisions in recent memory remains to be seen. But it’s going to be fun to watch, starting with this massive season-opening test.
Los Angeles Chargers team news
The story for the Chargers is not a dramatically different one. Other than the fact that, despite the disappointment of 2021, the Chargers are seen by many (most? all?) as being in a more enviable position than the Raiders. It all begins, of course, with cannon-armed Justin Herbert, one of the most preternaturally gifted young quarterbacks in the NFL, and a near-lock MVP candidate for the next decade. Alongside him in the backfield is dual threat star running back Austin Ekeler. Out wide is one of NFL’s most reliable receiving targets over the past decade, Keenan Allen and newly re-signed (three years, $60 million) #1 pass-catcher Mike Williams. And up front the team boasts one of the league’s top foundational offensive lineman in left tackle Rashawn Slater and one of its top senators in Corey Linsley. This unit alone will be enough to keep the Chargers in basically every game they play.
It’s on defense, where the Chargers came up short so often a year ago, that the franchise got aggressive and made their own series of ‘all in’ moves in the hopes of building a Herbert-worthy defense. For that unit, which already boasted two superstars in pass rusher Joey Bosa and strong safety Derwin James, the franchise spared no expense. adding former Rams defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph (on a bargain three-year, $15 million deal) and former Patriots star cornerback J.C. Jackson (for five years and $82.5 million) in free agency, before swooping in to acquire six-time Pro Bowl, three-time All-Pro, and former Defensive Player of the Year, future Hall of Fame pass rusher Khalil Mack, who thrived under Brandon Staley in the past.
It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to look at the Chargers roster and see a Super Bowl contender. Of course, given the way all of the pieces came together (or didn’t) in 2021, to say nothing of the somewhat Tottenham-esque history of this franchise in general (especially when it looks perfectly set up for success), it’s going take more than a seriously-loaded roster in early September to make believers out of most NFL observers.
With all of that said, at this point in time, it feels downright irresponsible to doubt Justin Herbert.
There’s no doubt that both of these teams will be amped up for this contest. The fact that it’s taking place at SoFi Stadium, the Chargers nominal ‘home’ which will be overrun by Raiders fans, is a distinct advantage for the Silver and Black. However, when it comes down to it, the Chargers’ improved pass rush against a suspect Raiders offensive line should be the difference.