(CBS Sacramento) — The Oakland Raiders, in mid-November, seemed to have turned a corner. They were 6-4 and riding a three-game winning streak. Their burgeoning season included impressive wins over the then-relevant Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. Derek Carr was playing efficiently. Josh Jacobs, one the season’s few bright spots, was piling up yards. The team seemed to be gelling in Jon Gruden’s second season.
Then the Raiders ran into an unlikely brick wall — the 3-7 New York Jets. Sam Darnold torched their pieced-together defense for 315 yards and two touchdowns, while Carr and Jacobs were ineffective against the also banged up Jets unit. The Raiders lost 34-3, and haven’t won since. The Kansas City Chiefs dropped 40 points on them while barely taking their offense out of neutral. The Tennessee Titans bested that total with 42, as Ryan Tannehill racked up 391 passing yards and three touchdowns. Then last week the Jacksonville Jaguars found the end zone twice in the fourth quarter to issue the Raiders their fourth straight loss.
“If you’d asked me this a month ago, I’d be like, ‘the Raiders, they’re in the playoff hunt,’ recounts CBS 13 Sacramento sports director Marshall Harris. “Four losses later, we’re talking about a Raiders team that’s really seen the wind go out of its sails. It’s bad right now in Oakland. Jon Gruden will tell you everybody is hurt. I saw a team lead for 59 minutes and some change against a Jaguars team. And you can say what you want about Gardner Minshew, Minshew magic, and all that stuff. But if you’re the Oakland Raiders, you have to win your final home game at the Coliseum…”
The last season in Oakland held promise a month ago. Then again many Raiders seasons during their time in Oakland held promise only to ultimately disappoint. This one is only notable because they will be playing in another city next year. The team will become the Las Vegas Raiders for the 2020 season and play its home games at Allegiant Stadium.
As for the remaining two games, which include an AFC West division matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers (4-9), “I think the season is over for them,” says Harris. “I can’t see them getting another win the rest of the way. So I’ve got the Chargers winning.”
That other team from Los Angeles has also endured a disappointing season. But unlike the Raiders, who seemed to come together and then fall apart, the Chargers could never really get on track. That, in its own way has been supremely frustrating for a team that went 12-4 last season and then won a wild-card game over the Baltimore Ravens.
They did, however, spend much of the season right on the brink of getting on track, which just compounded the frustration. The Bolts haven’t been above .500 since beating the Indianapolis Colts in early September. After that Week 1 win, Chargers have lost nine of 13 games. And the margin in eight of those games was a touchdown or less. So it’s very easy to play the ‘what-if’ game. What if Melvin Gordon didn’t hold out? What if injuries were less of an issue? What if the Chargers managed to win more than two close games?
Maybe the last two games can answer that question. The Chargers blew out the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14, 45-10, on the strength of Austin Ekeler’s career day. Ekeler ran for 101 yards and caught four passes for another 112 yards. Philip Rivers threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns. The tides turned drastically in Week 15 when the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings dropped 39 points on them.
The Chargers face an uncertain future as well, with the contract of long-time quarterback Philip Rivers set to run out and rumors of an eventual city change. They should dispatch with a Raiders team in free-fall, but a win won’t alter the trajectory of this lost season in any meaningful way.
The Raiders play the Chargers Sunday @ 1:05 p.m. PT on CBS.