Sometimes, division games can be very surprising.
A year ago, the San Diego Chargers came into Oakland as a favorite, but were sent home with a 27-17 defeat.
Now the Chargers are coming north again, this time as even more definitive favorites. San Diego is 4-1, quarterback Philip Rivers leads the NFL in passing and both the San Diego offense and defense are playing well.
The Raiders, of course, look like an easy mark. At 0-4, they’ve played so badly that head coach Dennis Allen was fired. Now interim head coach Tony Sparano has spent the time since he was promoted more than a week ago trying to pump some energy into what has so far been a lifeless team.
But as longstanding AFC West rivals, these two teams have long memories, and the games inside the division mean more.
Sparano says “the fire has been lit” on his team, and he expects it to come out re-energized Sunday afternoon at O.co Coliseum. He’s been spending more time in practice emphasizing fundamentals and eliminating mistakes, and he says his players are eager to turn the page with a strong game against San Diego.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm on the practice field today,” Sparano told reporters this week.
But enthusiasm alone won’t cut it. The Oakland defense is going to have to find a way to contain Rivers and the Chargers’ passing game – not an easy task. They’ll also rely on rookie quarterback Derek Carr to manage the game and make some third-down conversions to keep San Diego’s offense off the field.
One thing the Chargers say is that they’re not going to take Sunday’s game as an automatic victory. Tight end Antonio Gates said the Chargers “were flat” in last year’s game in Oakland and paid the price.
The Raiders may be 0-4, but Gates said the Raiders have to be taken seriously.
“Those guys still get paid,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Those guys are professional athletes despite what their record shows.”