When Chargers have the ball: In the offseason, while they rebuilt their defense, the Chargers only tinkered with their offense. They brought in new starters at tight end (Gerald Everett), right guard (Zion Johnson) and fullback (Zander Horvath), with holdover Trey Pipkins III taking over at right tackle. The Chargers also added depth at running back in Sony Michel after their initial 53-man roster was set. There was no reason for significant change after Justin Herbert led the Chargers to top-five finishes in points and total yards. This season, more of the same is anticipated. “There’s no drama, right?” running back Austin Ekeler said of having a certainty such as Herbert running the offense. “We don’t have the media talking about, ‘Who’s the quarterback? What are they doing? What’s going on?’ None of that. We’re good.” Ekeler is coming off a 20-touchdown season, and wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both topped 1,100 receiving yards. Williams also set an NFL single-season record in 2021 with five go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter or overtime. “He’s a guy the quarterbacks have a lot of trust in,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “He doesn’t have to be open to be open.” Of note: In 10 career games against the Raiders, Williams has only one touchdown.
When Raiders have the ball: Davante Adams has done an awful lot in his career but the one thing he hasn’t done much is play against the Chargers. This will be just the second time a Chargers defense has had to deal with Adams, Las Vegas’ key offseason acquisition. In early November of 2019, Adams had seven receptions for 41 yards with a long catch of only nine yards as the Chargers beat Green Bay 26-11 at the then-StubHub Center. Still Chargers coach Brandon Staley called Adams “one of the elite, special players in the league” before noting the myriad of ways Adams can beat a defense. The man responsible for getting Adams the ball is quarterback Derek Carr, who finished the 2021 regular season with only 15 fewer completions and 210 fewer passing yards than Herbert, who earned Pro Bowl honors. But Herbert had 15 more touchdown passes than Carr. “People who know what they’re talking about, they know that Derek is an outstanding player,” Staley said. “He’s as good of a passer as there is, just from his stroke. He has a really pure stroke. He’s very, very accurate. He has a quick release. He’s as sharp as they come at the line of scrimmage.”
When they kick: Dustin Hopkins returns for the Chargers after making 18 of 20 field goals and 30 of 32 extra points in 11 games last season. But they have a new punter (JK Scott), long snapper (Josh Harris) and return man (DeAndre Carter). The Raiders’ Daniel Carlson made 40 of 43 field goal tries in 2021 and scored a franchise-record 150 points. He led the NFL with five game-winning kicks in the fourth quarter or later. His 47-yarder on the final play of overtime in Week 18 booted the Chargers from playoff contention.
Jeff Miller’s prediction: This could be one of the NFL’s most emotional regular-season games considering how these teams finished 2021 against one another. There have been extensive roster changes on both sides, but there are still plenty of players who were on the field that final Sunday night in January just off the Strip.
CHARGERS 36, RAIDERS 31