The NFL’s first ever 17-game season is just about in the books. But before we can fully close out this historic year, there is one game remaining and it’s a big one. Thanks to flexed schedules, the NFL saved the best for last as when the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Las Vegas Raiders tonight, it will be with everything on the line (8:20 PM ET Sunday; TV: Live on NBC).
This is as close to a one-game playoff as the NFL has and it should absolutely be a good one to end the regular season on. Keep reading for our Chargers at Raiders NFL game preview with betting picks and predictions.
Second Best in the West
Through the first seven weeks of the season, the outlook in the AFC West looked much different than how the season ultimately ended. The Kansas City Chiefs, two time defending AFC Champions, were sitting at just 3-4 and very much looked lost. They certainly did not look like the team that has achieved so much in recent years. This left an opening for the Raiders and Chargers, both of which started the first half of the season strong. Before a week seven bye, the young Chargers were soaring behind Justin Herbert, winning four of their first six games including big wins against the Chiefs and the Raiders.
Speaking of those Raiders, they started the year on fire, winning five of their first seven albeit against what turned out to be a pretty soft schedule. This meant the Raiders were sitting pretty in first place and the Chargers were close behind. Finally, it looked like the tides in the AFC West may have been changing.
But one should learn never to bet against an Andy Reid-coached team. The Chiefs, who found themselves victims of their own success, readjusted their style of play and slowed the game down. This resulted in a winning streak that started in week eight and carried all the way through week 16. Their eight-game streak didn’t end until the season’s penultimate game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Why bring this up? Because as the Chiefs were surging, both the Chargers and Raiders were fumbling. Like a fork in the road, Kansas City chose one path and Los Angeles and Las Vegas took the other. And as we know, it was the Chiefs path that proved most fruitful.
Youth caught up to the Chargers as Herbert’s would-be MVP season was derailed by a series of uneven performances. As the Chiefs went on a winning streak, the Chargers suffered, going just 5-5 over their last 10 games. The Raiders struggled as well. Losing their head coach and dealing with great uncertainty, the Raiders finished their last 10 games at just 4-6. This opened the door for the Chiefs to end up easily winning yet another AFC West crown.
That brings us to the final game of the NFL season. While the AFC West crown is out of reach, the postseason is not. In fact, the formula is pretty simple. If the Chargers win, they claim one of the final wildcard spots. If the Raiders win, that spot belongs to them. It is win or go home in a division that truly saw these two teams evenly matched throughout the first 16 games.
The Covid List and Injury Report
First things first. This season, each NFL team faced a two-headed monster each week of play. The first was preparing to face their opponents and the second was waiting to see how many players would end up on the Covid list due to the league’s protocols. No team went unscathed this year as hundreds of players found themselves listed on the Covid-19 with a great deal of that number missing games as well. In fact, just this week alone the league placed over 75 players on the list, making their status for the final game of the season in doubt.
Well, fortunately for the Raiders and Chargers, who placed seven on the Covid list just a few weeks ago, the impact of the virus will be minimal. Only one player for the Raiders, Kendall Vickers, was on the list as of January 7th and none for the Chargers. The injury reports look pretty good too. The Chargers will get their top defensive playmaker, Derwin James Jr. back after a hamstring injury and will only be without defensive lineman Joe Gaziano. The Raiders have an injury report littered with names but none are officially listed as out. The biggest questionables to watch will be top corner Casey Hayward Jr. and running back Josh Jacobs, who looks poised to take advantage of the Chargers’ 30th ranked rush defense. The Raiders are also hoping to get Darren Waller back, who was one of their top offensive weapons before a knee injury sidelined him a few weeks ago.
LA Chargers vs LV Raiders Predictions and Picks Verdict for this Betting Preview
It all comes down to this. Barring a weird scenario where both the Chargers and Raiders would make the postseason in the event of a tie and the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the playoff fates of these two AFC West teams will basically be resolved in this game.
It is worth noting however that while the Chargers can’t lose and make the playoffs, while the Raiders can. Las Vegas would just need the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers to lose and then that spot would be theirs. Both of those games occur prior to the Chargers/Raiders season finale so both teams will know what they need to do by kickoff.
Las Vegas (+3 points) are home underdogs, a position that largely sums up the bulk of their season. The Raiders were 3-0 until Jon Gruden was fired for inappropriate conduct, and basically, no one had any expectations of them after that. But Las Vegas played with determination and intensity as Derek Carr continued to show why he is an underrated quarterback in the NFL. And really, it could all come down to QB play today.
Herbert has no shortage of weapons at his disposal. From Austin Ekeler in the running game to 1,000-yard receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. And he has made use of all of them this year en route to a Chargers’ franchise record 35 touchdown passes. Then there is Carr, who has been devoid of just about all his top guys having lost Waller for several weeks, Henry Ruggs, and now Jacobs. And the Raiders offense has shown it, averaging under 20 points per game during their most recent winning streak. That has been the testament to their defense, which may be the team’s best weapon tonight.
As for our predictions and betting picks, we have these two recommendations if you fancy a bet with any of the better USA offshore sports betting sites:
- This game should be a nailbiter but look for the Chargers to pull away late and not look back. The Raiders lack red zone efficiency and against a team that will no doubt put up points, that should prove to be the final nail in Las Vegas’ 2021-2022 coffin. Bet the Chargers -3pts @ best odds of -110 with Bovada or EveryGame (formerly called Intertops).
- As for the total points, take the under 49 @ -110, again those best odds are with Bovada and EveryGame.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.