Saturday, September 1, 2012

San Diego Chargers vs Oakland Raiders: SD -1 (Pinnacle)

Markets

Way back in the offseason the Chargers actually opened as slight +1 point underdogs, but it can't come as a surprise that they've slowly become the favorite.  Despite the poor play by San Diego in recent years, the Raiders have been just as inconsistent.

Seeing is Believing?

I'm not sure about you, but if there are two more perplexing teams in the NFL than the Chargers and the Raiders, be sure to let me know.  The Bolts teased us year in and year out with their wealth of talent on both sides of the ball and gaudy rankings in the stats column. Every year, they seem to be on the verge of going all the way.

Yet here we are questioning whether they are even relevant anymore?  Football Outsiders has confirmed that most of Rivers' mistakes last year were mostly due to his bad decisions rather than bad luck or intervening circumstances and his preseason interceptions sure don't put those questions to rest.

Undrafted Mike Harris is slated to get the start at left tackle to protect Rivers blind side. He's just happy to make the cuts and now he's tasked with the second most important job on the field. The WR position is a big question mark after Vincent Jackson jumped ship, Roscoe Parrish got cut, and Vincent Brown got injured.  Finally, Ryan Mathews is made of glass and is very questionable to get back in time for Week 1.

The defensive secondary is another red flag after Eric Weddle. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are in big need of a bounce-back season and Brandon Taylor and Atari Bigby are questions at safety.

Norv Turner should've been fired, but instead they desperately fired both coordinators in one last attempt to get this done.

If I haven't scared you off from this pick by now, by all means keep reading so we can get to the positives.

The Black Hole or The Twilight Zone?

Thankfully, this is not 2011. Each year presents new opportunities and I can't pass up the chance to fade the new shiny version of the Oakland Raiders.

I used to be a big fan of Carson Palmer when he was putting up big numbers in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that Palmer is playing on borrowed time.  He's never had any experience with the West Coast Offense and he hasn't exactly looked comfortable running it in the preseason. If you think Rivers is a good bet for an interception, go ahead and double down on Carson Palmer, too.

The saving grace for Palmer is he has continuity on his offensive line and a stud (when healthy) in Darren McFadden. Although, Stefen Wisniewski was moved to center with barely any previous experience and hasn't been able to get on the field much due to injuries.

The other downside is a guy like McFadden might not even matter if Palmer doesn't maintain a high level of accuracy and more patience in the pocket - both being high requirements for Greg Knapp's system. I think this is going to be problematic because his receivers are banged up and unproven when healthy. This will give the Chargers secondary a chance to get off to a good start.

Defensively, the Raiders are finally abandoning the 4-man rush and man-to-man cover scheme that Al Davis was so adamant about. The 2.0 version we'll see this year is going to present multiple fronts that mix up schemes, zones, and blitzes.

The main issue will be whether or not these guys can cover all the areas of the field in the passing game.  Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer barely played last year, and a healthy Antonio Gates will present matchup problems over the middle.  The front-four is a solid group, but none of them are speed-burners off the edge.

Full Circle

Now let's finish with what I like about the Chargers in this matchup. First of all is the return to practice by Nick Hardwick. Center is one of the most underrated positions in football and I didn't feel completely confident in this pick if he remained out.

Next, I really like all the reports about Gates this preseason. I'm not sure he'll stay healthy all year, but I'm only concerned about this game and he's good to go.

Finally, it's the changes on defense that I'm most excited about. Up front Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget, and Kendall Reyes lead the youth movement. I love the addition of Jarret Johnson at linebacker and Melvin Ingram is poised for a big rookie year. Even Larry English is turning heads this preseason.

Nate Kaeding is back at kicker and could have a leg up (no pun intended) on Sebastian Janikowski's gimpy preseason form.

Bottom Line

As outlined, the Chargers are not a team without question marks, but for me there's lot more to like than what I'm seeing in Oakland. The Raiders are going in the right direction, but they still lack depth, a quality passing game, and game-breakers on defense.

NFL Pick: SD -1

The rest of my Week 1 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.