Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 17 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders:
1. Tune Out Noise – There are plenty of outside factors that will be on Chargers fans' minds on Sunday as the team needs a Titans loss plus either a Ravens win or Bills loss in order to clinch a playoff berth. However, none of that matters if the Bolts don't take care of business and beat the Raiders. While everyone else may be focusing on other games in addition to the Chargers, Head Coach Anthony Lynn said the team won't even have the other scores flash at StubHub Center:
"There's no reason for us to (be distracted by) what the other teams are doing. Our hands are going to be full."
Philip Rivers also weighed in on the decision:
"To say you don't ever look up there to see a highlight or see a score, 'Oh wow, somebody is up 21-0.'…Yeah. I think that's crazy to think you don't see any of that stuff that goes on, on the big board. Again, I don't see that. Whether they show them or don't show them, I don't think that's going to be a topic of conversation on the sideline. Our biggest opposition is right across the sideline and in between the lines. That's what we're going to be focused on."
2. Mad Marshawn – Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley has intimate knowledge of Marshawn Lynch from their time together in Seattle. That's why his words carry weight when he says Lynch is running better right now than at any point in the season, including the team's Week 6 match in Oakland. "Beast Mode" is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the season, toting the rock 188 times for 790 yards and seven touchdowns. To compound matters, the Chargers have struggled against the run the last two weeks, and currently rank last in yards surrendered per game. Thus, Bradley stressed the tough task ahead at corralling Lynch:
"We just had those spots where some big plays — whether it was a quarterback scramble, or we lost containment. We've got to shore that up, especially with this team. (It's the) same type of mentality as last week. They're going to come in and try to establish the run. I think Marshawn Lynch looks better now than he did earlier in the season. He's really shown up. He's running hard, physical (and) with that anger that I know I'm accustomed to seeing. He's playing really well for them, as well as their offensive line."
3. Carr Running Smoothly – When the Bolts visited the Raiders in October, Derek Carr was coming off a one game absence due to a back injury. When he went down, the estimated recovery time was 2-6 weeks. Thus, the Bolts will see a very different quarterback than their Week 6 meeting. Carr has completed 304 of 487 passes (62.4-percent) for 3,253 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 picks for an 86.0 passer rating. Bradley weighed in on how spry Carr has looked lately:
"If you see the Dallas game, he took off and ran for one of his longest runs of the season. He's not afraid. We just had a conversation about how he'll extend plays. He'll use his feet to gain yardage for first downs in third down situations. He's not afraid to do that. He's not skittish or anything."
4. What if Gordon Can't Go? – There's no mincing words when it comes to Melvin Gordon's importance to the offense. The running back became only the seventh player this season to surpass 1,000 yards last week as he's rushed for 1,012 on 267 carries (3.8 ypc) with eight touchdowns. He's also a force in the passing game, ranking second on the team with 52 receptions for 445 yards and another four scores. However, Gordon's status is up in the air after suffering an ankle injury late in last week's win over the New York Jets. So, how much of the game plan will change if Gordon can't go? Not much according to Lynn:
"You just get the other guys ready to play. You don't have to have two different game plans for it. But you'll have to make sure everybody else is ready to go, and we may have to make a couple roster moves."
5. Good Vibes on the Line – The Chargers may not control their postseason fate, but they can determine whether they enter the offseason with a winning record or not. To go 9-7 after an 0-4 start is certainly something to be proud of. The Chargers have already gone 8-3 since that dismal start, and Lynn acknowledged having a winning record as we enter the new year would be a big deal:
"It goes right into the offseason, right into the next year. No doubt about it. This could be the springboard to our next season regardless"