By Sam McPherson
For a 4-10 team going nowhere in 2013, the Oakland Raiders have somewhat enjoyable tasks in Week 16: assessing players for 2014 while having a chance to eliminate a division rival from the postseason playoff chase.
Sure, it’s a small consolation prize for a proud franchise that hasn’t been to the NFL’s promise land since 2002, but you have to look for positives this time of year. And one of those positives for the Raiders right now is a relatively healthy roster.
Oakland’s offense, for example, is almost 100 percent healthy for its battle against San Diego’s 25th-ranked defense on Sunday. The Chargers give up 376.2 yards per game, and the Raiders will have all their weapons ready and game for the opportunity. And the good news is that previous injuries have given Oakland new-found depth as replacements have stepped up to make an impact for the team when given the opportunity.
Wide receiver Denarius Moore played last week and caught two passes, but his injury replacement in the lineup — Andre Holmes — has played well enough to keep the starting job even with Moore’s return. And with the Chargers ranked 29th against the pass (267.4 yards per game), having three competent wideouts could be a big opportunity for the Raiders and quarterback Matt McGloin to do some damage through the air. Holmes, over the last three games, has totaled 15 catches for 257 yards, and he’s made some pretty plays in the process.
No. 2 Rod Streater also stepped up in Moore’s recent absences, and he now leads the team with 54 receptions for 846 yards. Throw in Moore’s team-leading five TD catches, and the Raiders depth at the position is suddenly a team strength in terms of looking forward to 2014.
Likewise, at running back, Darren McFadden will play Sunday in a limited, backup role to Rashad Jennings, but having a guy like McFadden on your depth chart is a nice luxury. He probably won’t be back with the team in 2014, and Jennings has demonstrated an ability to be the starter going forward in any case. He’s only 28, and even so, Jennings has logged just 373 career NFL carries (for 1623 yards, a 4.4 yard average and 13 rushing TDs). His low mileage will make him very appealing to keep in an Oakland uniform for next season and beyond.
Defensively, the Raiders have a tougher task against San Diego, especially with some nicked-up starters. Defensive tackle Vance Walker is dealing with concussion challenges, as is linebacker Sio Moore. Both are expected to start despite being listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. In addition, free safety Charles Woodson has some rib issues, but he is expected to start as well despite his “questionable” designation on the injury reprt.
San Diego’s offense is ranked sixth in the NFL with 396.0 yards per game, so Oakland will need all three of these guys ready if they want to stop the Chargers and win the game.
However, the Bolts have some injuries on that offensive squad that could compromise their abilities to match that yardage average on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium. They have four offensive starters on the injury report, including two on the offensive line. Right tackle D.J. Fluker and center Nick Hardwick both are probably, although Hardwick hasn’t participated in practices this week. That could be a weakness for the Raiders to exploit in the trenches to gain an edge in Week 16.
Running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Keenan Allen, too, are listed as probable, but any injury concern to these two talented players could compromise the Chargers’ ability to win the game. Mathews has run for 100+ yards in the last games for San Diego, both wins, including 127 last week against the Denver Broncos on the road. He now has 1,012 rushing yards on the year, overall. Meanwhile, Allen’s rookie year has been superb, with 63 catches for 931 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers are healthy in general, with a few starters listed as probably for the game: safety Eric Weddle, linebacker Jarret Johnson and cornerback Shareece Wright are all expected to play.
If the Raiders can win this one on the road, it will be the Silver and Black’s first season sweep of the Chargers since 2010, although it might end up hurting the Oakland draft position next spring if they do happen to ruin the San Diego playoff dream.
Somehow, that exchange is one the Raiders organization and their fans would take this Sunday.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.