The NFL season is winding down and the race for the postseason is changing by the week. With so few games left, every one matters especially for bubble teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, who have seen their playoff hopes ebb and flow. The Raiders have a critical game today against their AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers (8.20pm ET Thursday; TV: Live on Fox & NFL Network).
The best the Chargers can hope for is to play spoiler but for the Raiders, their playoff lives are still alive. A loss today would be devastating however. With just three games left, the Raiders may need to win out and that begins on Thursday Night Football. Can they do it? Read this LA Chargers vs LV Raiders predictions and full preview, with betting picks at the end.
Raiders Defensive Question Marks
Two weeks ago, if not for what seemed like a clear attempt to throw the game by the New York Jets, the Raiders may well have lost to a winless team. Then, the following week, Las Vegas took a big loss against the Indianapolis Colts, who the defense allowed to put up 44 points. Including the damage done by the Jets, that’s 72 points the Raiders’ defense has given up in their last two games.
Something had to give and that something came in the form of a someone. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was fired and replaced by the team’s then line coach and all-time great, Rod Marinelli. Marinelli brings a wealth of experience to the role as this is not his first time leading a defense. He has certainly had success in the past but there have also been some bumpy roads as tend to be the case when you are around something as long as Marinelli has been the game of football. The 71-year-old is taking on the assignment in the short-term and with just a few days to run the defense, Marinelli isn’t planning on making any major changes.
There are pros and cons to that approach. Of course, making changes to a defense with just a few days of being at the helm isn’t practical. It may be the only thing that saves the Raiders from missing out on the postseason despite what had been a promising early start to the year. Las Vegas’ defense has been a big liability lately and while that sort of thing can’t be fixed overnight, they will certainly need better performances out of that unit and Marinelli in his new role. That all being said, the injury report doesn’t exactly help matters out as the team will be without four of its defensive starters, including two on the line and two in the struggling secondary. It is somewhat of an auspicious start for the Raiders, but if anyone can weather the storm, it would be Marinelli.
Winning on Offense
Let’s face it. The Chargers are simply not a good team. Two weeks ago, they were thoroughly embarrassed by the New England Patriots to the tune of a 45-0 shellacking. The following week, LA rebounded with a win against the Atlanta Falcons but that’s not saying much given the struggles the Falcons themselves have experienced this year. That means that even a bad defensive performance by the Raiders may not be enough to sink them. It will really all depend on how Las Vegas’ offense performs against LA’s own subpar defense. There is good reason to believe the Raiders will be able to put points on the board, especially since Josh Jacobs is back in the lineup.
Jacobs returned to the lineup last week but was largely ineffectual against the Colts. That was somewhat to be expected as Jacobs missed a few weeks from late November into early December, getting injured in the Raiders lopsided 43-6 loss to the Falcons. Prior to that game however, Jacobs was enjoying some great recent success totaling over 100 yards rushing in two of his prior four games. Jacobs is a big piece of the Raiders’ offense and being able to get him back to his rushing best will be a huge part as to why the Raiders either do or don’t make the playoffs.
Also, there for the team on offense is Derek Carr, who has had his ups and downs over the years. Carr is enjoying a healthy campaign in 2020 and has been among the upper echelon of QB’s this year as a result. Carr has 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions and has totaled over 3,300 yards. He is also completing passes at a career-high rate of 68.2 percent. Carr’s recent efforts have been lost thanks to the defense, but he is certainly capable of leading Las Vegas to some big victories. He almost did so against the Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks back, in what was one of LA’s best games of the year and a clear example of their capacity to compete in the AFC.
Our Betting Preview’s LA Chargers vs Las Vegas Raiders Predictions & Picks Verdict
Perhaps the biggest hurdle standing in the Raiders’ way is the absence of Henry Ruggs, who was named to the COVID-list recently and will be unable to play tonight. This is a big blow to the offense as the rookie wide receiver has been important to the team and a great weapon for Carr. Ruggs hasn’t been used extensively in the passing game but when he has been targeted, he’s delivered, catching all but 15 of the passes thrown his way. Losing Ruggs just takes away one option however.
The good news for Vegas is that Hunter Renfrow, who has caught passes for 594 yards and Nelson Agholor who has done the same for 635, will both be in the lineup. Both will no doubt continue to be a large part of Las Vegas’ success as they were the last time the Raiders and Chargers met earlier this year.
The Raiders are favorites with the main betting sites but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, Las Vegas, despite being the home team are being given just three points against the Chargers according to the U.S. sportsbooks. These are the picks we recommend as part of our Los Angeles Chargers vs Las Vegas Raiders predictions advice and preview:
- It is USAbetting’s advice to take the Raiders -3pts @ -114 with BetOnline. It is -115 with Bovada, Bookmaker and Intertops. Vegas should be able to weather the storm against LA.
- As for the total points, look for the over 53.5pts @ -105 with Bookmaker or BetOnline because the Raiders’ defensive issues simply won’t fix themselves overnight.
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.