Most wouldn't argue that the Oakland Raiders have been as talented as the San Diego Chargers over the last two years, but "we aren't talented" can only get an NFL head coach so far. Two seasons into his career with the Raiders, Dennis Allen has won eight games. Still in his first season with the Chargers, Mike McCoy has won seven games.
Both coaches have a lot riding on their Week 16 matchup in San Diego; it's only the stakes that are different.
Nobody has coached in Oakland for three full seasons since Jon Gruden from 1998 to 2001. Allen has only 30 games under his belt, but the quick trigger of the Raiders to say "out with the old and in with the new" doesn't seem to bode well for him at the moment. A win on Sunday would at least give Allen more wins in Year 2 than he had in Year 1.
The Chargers haven't made the playoffs since 2009, and McCoy would love to put a feather in his cap that shows he got the team back into the postseason on his first try. Other things still need to happen in addition to a San Diego win on Sunday, but it's a good start.
Meet the Chargers
Underachieving San Diego finally fired Norv Turner after a 7-9 finish in 2012 and hired McCoy away from being Peyton Manning's offensive coordinator in Denver. McCoy hired the recently fired Ken Whisenhunt to be his offensive coordinator, and they've seen Philip Rivers turn in the best season of his career despite injuries to his top two receivers.
Rivers is completing an NFL-high 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,048 yards, 28 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 8.4 yards per attempt. Rookie Keenan Allen has stepped up for 63 catches and 931 yards with seven touchdowns, while running back Ryan Mathews has seen a mini-breakthrough for 1,012 rushing yards and five scores.
Those are the reasons they've won seven games, but one of the worst defenses in the NFL is the reason that they've also lost seven games.
Advanced stats website Football Outsiders ranks the Chargers as having the worst overall defense in the NFL, including ranking them last against both the pass and the run. Opposing teams have a QB rating of 98.9 while rushing for 4.7 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns.
Though Oakland may struggle to stop San Diego, it might be the confidence boost the Raiders' offense needs.
Meet the Raiders
Oakland has juggled three quarterbacks this season, first acquiring Matt Flynn in an offseason trade, then having him lose a competition against Terrelle Pryor. Pryor suffered an injury, and Flynn was released after one start. Pryor came back, but he floundered and was replaced by undrafted free agent Matt McGloin.
Pryor and McGloin have flashed positive signs to give fans hope for the future, but both have also struggled to grasp the starting job. It's a major reason why many are projecting the 4-10 Raiders to draft a QB next May with what is likely to be a top-five pick.
What the Raiders lack, though, are stars, playmakers and elite players on defense. It's a major amount of work for GM Reggie McKenzie and Allen, if he's able to retain his job for 2014. Few coaches have ever survived winning eight games or fewer over their first two seasons, however.
Local Takes: San Diego Chargers
Kevin Grauel at Bolts from the Blue talks about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the Chargers' impressive 27-20 Week 15 victory over the Denver Broncos, including a solid performance from Mathews:
Ryan Mathews had another impressive game, racking up 29 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown. He had 29 carries in two consecutive weeks, totaling 58 carries in 5 days. The ground game played heavily into the Bolts' favor, as they dominated time of possession and allowed Rivers to only attempt 20 passes. Mathews already has more carries in 2013 than in any of his first 4 seasons, and has only fumbled twice. In addition, he is on pace to top his career high 1,091 yards. Mathews is having a great season thanks to a harder and more decisive running style, and has been an important weapon on the Chargers offense.
Local Takes: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders actually did draft a quarterback last April. In the fourth round, they chose Tyler Wilson, who seemed to be a good building block behind Pryor and Flynn, but it didn't work out. Wilson was placed on waivers before the season and put on the practice squad, but was signed away earlier this week by the Titans.
Also on the offensive side of the ball are Kasa and Butler, who have just nine catches between them this season (with all nine belonging to Butler). Defensively, Sio Moore has shown flashes of potential, as has McGee, but neither has been a serious game-changer.
Like Wilson, Bass is no longer with the Raiders. It's obviously too early to tell with a lot of these guys — especially the 2013 class — but with 16 draft picks in two seasons, one would expect some tangible results already. In reality, there's a good chance that Oakland only ends up with 2-3 contributors from these two classes (and none of them appear to be elite contributors).
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@LeviDamien (S&B Pride's managing editor)
Given what San Diego is fighting for and that the Chargers are simply a better team, it doesn't seem like Oakland has a lot going for it this week. The Raiders just gave up 56 points to the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Chargers just beat the best team in the AFC.
It's not really going out on a limb to think that San Diego wins this game.
SD 31, OAK 17
The Chargers are as much as 11-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.
The Raiders close out their season next Sunday at home against the Broncos at 4:25 p.m. ET. Denver won the first meeting of the year, 37-21.
Meanwhile, San Diego stays at home and takes on the other team in the AFC West, the Chiefs, also at 4:25 p.m. The Chargers won the last meeting in KC, 41-38.