The Oakland Raiders — the most disappointing team in the 2017 NFL season – limp to the finish line Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Oakland, which went 12-4 last season and ended a 14-year playoff drought, is 6-9 and was officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16. However, the truth is the Raiders, who have lost three straight games, have not looked like a playoff team since Week 3 when the season began to unravel in Washington.
While Oakland is going to finish with a losing record, for the fifth time in the past six seasons, it will try to avoid going 6-10. If the Raiders only win half of their win total from last year, it could push Oakland owner Mark Davis to firing coach Jack Del Rio even though he signed a four-year contract extension earlier this year. Thus, this is an important game for Oakland against the Chargers, who are trying to squeeze in the AFC playoffs. Here are five keys to the game for Oakland:
1. Play hard
If the Raiders look uninterested and fail to show up in an AFC West game, that could be a nail in Del Rio’s coffin. However, that would be a surprise. This team has tried all season. Effort isn’t the problem. It’s been execution. To Oakland’s credit, it played hard at Philadelphia on Christmas night even though they were officially eliminated Sunday when Kansas City beat Miami. Finishing the season with another strong effort could go a long way to Del Rio keeping his job.
2. Continue to ascend on defense
The Raiders have been significantly better on defense in the five games since John Pagano took over for the fired Ken Norton Jr. The Raiders have been especially better against the pass. Cornerbacks Sean Smith and T.J. Carrie are playing better, and the pass-rush has been ramped up. Oakland will need to play well against the pass Sunday with Philip Rivers on the other side of the ball.
3. Show some offensive fight
The offensive regression in Oakland has been startling. This unit has been dreadful for much of the season after being a solid unit last season. There is rampant speculation Del Rio, if he is retained, will fire offensive coordinator Todd Downing after just one season on the job. Del Rio raised eyebrows shortly after last season when he fired Bill Musgrave after he directed the No. 6 offense in the NFL. Downing, who was Oakland’s quarterback coach, was getting looks elsewhere as an offensive coordinator. So, Del Rio made the surprise move. Downing’s game plans have been very uneven.
Quarterback Derek Carr looks lost. He looked like a backup quarterback playing as an injury replacement in Philadelphia on Monday. This was a player who was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. Maybe Oakland can show some life in the season finale. But don’t count on it.
4. Win turnover battle
The Raiders committed five turnovers in the second half at Philadelphia. That can’t work in this game. Oakland has get some turnovers in this game in an attempt to steal this road finale.
5. Protect Carr
The Chargers have a great pass-rush tandem in Joey Bosa (he has 11.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (10 sacks). Los Angeles has 41 sacks on the season. Carr was under pressure a lot on Monday night. Rookie David Sharpe made his first start at left tackle in place of the injured Donald Penn. The fourth-round pick did well. He will be challenged by Bosa and Ingram, though. Carr has been spotty and this dynamic likely won’t help things.