We're going to party like it's 2002.
That was the last time the Raiders started a season at 3-0. That 2002 season was also the last time the Raiders started a season 4-0, which they'll be trying to achieve with a Monday Night Football matchup against the AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers. The rivalry dating back to 1960 is as intense as it gets -- and it will only be more competitive with five former Chargers facing their old team.
This game will look a lot different than the last time the two faced off, with both teams reloading talent on both sides of the ball through the draft and in free agency. They will each also have back a few players who were injured in last year's games against each other.
If the Raiders want to come back to Las Vegas 4-0, they'll have to win out these key matchups.
DC4 vs. J Herbo
Everybody loves a classic AFC West shootout.
Derek Carr is playing some of the best football of his career and has helped the Raiders put up the fifth-most points in the NFL in their first three wins. Carr currently leads the league in passing yards (1203), passing yards per game (401) and completions 20-plus yards downfield (12). The three-time Pro Bowler looks sharper than he's ever been before, especially with the plethora of weapons he has to throw to in Jon Gruden and Greg Olson's system.
The Los Angeles Chargers offense doesn't fall too far behind the Raiders, led by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year currently has 956 passing yards, six touchdowns and a 97.9 QB rating. The Chargers are also coming off a victory against the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs, where Herbert threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns against them. The Chargers rank ninth in total offensive yards this season, while the Raiders are first.
Carr outdueled Herbert in their first matchup against one another, however in the second game of the 2020 season, Carr was injured in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game. Herbert went on to throw for 314 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers 30-27 win over the Raiders. With Carr healthy and the way he's playing, revenge might be in the cards for him and the Silver and Black. However, Herbert will make it far from easy to accomplish.
Rashawn Slater vs. the duo of Crosby and Ngakoue
The Chargers' rookie left tackle has already proven himself against the best the league has to offer in his first three NFL games.
Week 1 started off with Slater having his way with the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young. Slater allowed no sacks and no pressures in his 49 offensive snaps against the Washington Football Team. In last Sunday's win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he finished with an 80.5 PFF grade going up against Chiefs All-Pro defensive lineman Chris Jones. Despite the success the Northwestern Wildcat has had since he was selected as the 10th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he has two more extremely difficult matchups around the corner.
Slater may receive his "Welcome to the NFL" treatment this Sunday from Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. The two edge rushers have been a problem for every offensive line they've faced so far this season. The interchangeable duo are currently top five in the league in quarterback pressures and combined for 11 against the Miami Dolphins, according to PFF. Crosby is the fourth-highest graded defensive lineman (91.2) in the NFL after three games. Before our eyes, No. 98 is turning into a superstar and the pairing of him and Ngakoue is one of the best in the NFL right now.
Yes, Slater is a great, young offensive lineman. He's proven that. However, no matter how good he is, Crosby and Ngakoue should be his greatest challenge to date.
Darren Waller vs. Derwin James
The Chargers All-Pro safety missed the entirety of 2020 season with a torn meniscus. Needless to say, Darren Waller and the Las Vegas Raiders took advantage of that last season.
In the Raiders' split series with the Chargers last season, Waller went for 172 receiving yards on 14 catches with two touchdowns. If not accounted for, Waller can light up any defense. The tight end already has 20 receptions, 224 receiving yards and a touchdown this season.
The man that will see a lot of snaps against the star tight end is just as accomplished in his own right. Derwin James has proven to be one of the hardest hitting, dynamic safeties in the NFL since being drafted out of Florida State. After returning from injury, James is second on the team in tackles (15) with a pass deflection and half a sack this season.
In the first three games of the season, Waller has drawn matchups from the best each secondary had to offer in Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Byron Jones. I'd expect the same outcome in SoFi Stadium on Monday with James on Waller a lot of the game.
View director of photography Michael Clemens' top picks of black and white photos from the Raiders' Week 3 victory against the Miami Dolphins at Allegiant Stadium.