Week 15 of the NFL season kicks off in Sin City on Thursday night, as the 7-6 Las Vegas Raiders host the 4-9 Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers finally had good fortune on their side last week in a comeback win against the Falcons.
Los Angeles will look to play spoiler against the Raiders, who, after suffering a huge defeat to the Colts on Sunday, desperately need to win their remaining games to have any chance to make the postseason.
Here is a look at both the Chargers and Raiders headed into Thursday, along with a free pick for who is going to win. Las Vegas has opened as a three-point favorite at home.
To say that it has been a painful season for the Chargers might be an understatement. Los Angeles opened up the season with a 1-4 record, with blown leads and late-game mistakes playing a big factor.
Even with a breakout performance from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and big numbers from wide receiver Keenan Allen, the Chargers lost seven of their first 10 games, all by single-digits. The worst came in Week 13, when the Chargers lost 45-0 to the Patriots at home, the worst loss in franchise history.
Fortunately, Los Angeles was finally on the right side of good fortune on Sunday, forcing a turnover and driving down the field before kicking a game-winning field goal to beat the Falcons at home. Now, with three games left, all against division rivals, the Chargers hope to carry some momentum into next season.
Despite ranking within the top 10 in the NFL with nearly 396 yards per game, Los Angeles sits just 22nd with about 23 points per game. The Chargers are fairly average when it comes to running the ball, but they have the fourth-best passing offense under Herbert. They're also successful on 44.6 percent of their third downs, the seventh-best mark in football.
Defensively, the Chargers are giving up close to 28 points per game, 27th in the NFL, despite also being in the top 10 in yards allowed. Their pass defense is seventh in the league, but their run defense and third-down defense are ranked 21st and 23rd, respectively.
Elsewhere, Los Angeles has 23 sacks as well as nine interceptions.
In their first season in Las Vegas, the Raiders opened up the season 3-2, with wins over two of the league's top teams in the Saints and Chiefs. Their early-season play was fueled by quarterback Derek Carr, second-year running back Josh Jacobs, and breakout tight end Darren Waller.
Even after a bad loss to the Bucs to drop to .500, Las Vegas fought back to win three straight games, improving its record to 6-3 and putting it in a decent position to make the playoffs. However, the Raiders have fallen off over the last month, dropping three of four and giving up an average of 40.6 points in those games, resulting in the firing of their defensive coordinator.
Their one victory during that stretch came against the winless Jets on a miracle play near the end of the game. Now with three games to go and a game back of the playoffs, the Raiders must find a way to dig deep to save their postseason chances.
This season, the Raiders are inside the top 10 with just under 27 points per game, doing so on 379 yards per game. They are a fairly balanced offense, ranking 14th in passing yards and 12th in rushing yards per game.
The one really good thing Las Vegas has going for it is its 50 percent third-down conversion rate, the best in the NFL.
However, defense has been a different story. Las Vegas' 30.1 points allowed per game is the third-worst mark in football, and its 390.5 yards allowed is 25th.
The Raiders are equally bad against the pass (24th) as against the run (25th) and have the league's fourth-worst third-down defense as well. Not to mention, only the Titans have fewer than the Raiders' 15 sacks, but they have a solid 12 interceptions to make up for it.
Starting with the road team, the 4-9 Chargers are 5-7-1 ATS and boast a 2-3-1 ATS record on the road despite winning just one of their six road games this season. Despite their okay record against the spread for the season, Los Angeles has covered just once in its last seven games.
The Chargers are also 0-5 straight up in their last five road games and 1-5 in their last six games against the AFC. But they are 4-1 ATS in their last five road games against the Raiders.
Speaking of the 7-6 Raiders, they're also 7-6 ATS and are better against the spread at home (3-3) than their actual record (2-4) indicates. However, Las Vegas is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games against AFC opponents and has actually won four of its last six games against the AFC West, including a 31-26 victory against the Chargers last month.
However, as mentioned above, the Raiders have covered just once in their last five home games against the Chargers.
Despite the worse record and the blowout loss to the Patriots a couple of weeks ago, the Chargers have actually been the slightly better team of late. The Raiders seem to be in a freefall, with a defense that is just getting gashed by every opponent.
I like Herbert and the Chargers to go on the road and beat the Raiders in Las Vegas, pushing the Silver and Black further out of the playoff picture.
Pick: Chargers +3