2017 was a challenging year for the Oakland Raiders.
With playoff aspirations headed into the regular season, those dreams certainly did not come to fruition, but with a win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon, the Silver and Black do have a chance to play spoiler.
Granted, that’s not the role Head Coach Jack Del Rio’s squad had hoped to be playing Week 17, but that’s the role they earned.
While a win wouldn’t remedy the 2017 regular season, it would certainly go a long way in building some momentum headed into 2018; so here are three key matchups to keep an eye on at the StubHub Center, presented by Madden 18.
Cornerback Sean Smith vs. Wide Receiver Keenan Allen
Very quietly, Sean Smith has had a strong month out wide for the Silver and Black.
Last week, albeit it in a losing effort, the Raiders defense put together a quality effort, and Smith was a big part of that, as he held Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery without a catch all evening.
The veteran cornerback is going to have his hands full once again this weekend when he squares off against Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Allen, who is currently in the midst of a career year in LA, has been a dominant force for the Chargers, and his 1,260 receiving yards is good for fourth in the NFL.
Allen has nearly 600 yards more than the Chargers second leading receiver, so shutting him down will go a long way to limiting the Los Angeles offense.
That’s a lot easier said than done though.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman vs. Running Back Melvin Gordon
While it’s easy to get caught up in the prestige of the Chargers aerial assault – its ranked No. 3 in the NFL for a reason – it’s also important to remember that Melvin Gordon is also putting the finishing touches on a career year as well.
With 1,012 rushing yards, Gordon has already set a new career high, and his eight touchdowns are just two off from a personal best as well.
Not many teams have the luxury of pairing an elite passing game with a thousand-yard rusher, but the Chargers are one of those lucky few.
Defensively, while keeping Gordon in check will be a collective effort, a lot of that burden will fall on veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Since joining the Silver and Black midway through the 2017 campaign, Bowman has been a consistent presence in the middle of the Raiders defense, and it seems like he paces the group in tackles nearly every week.
Bowman has long been lauded for his work against the run, so be sure to keep an eye on No. 53 Sunday afternoon.
Tackle Marshall Newhouse vs. Defensive End Joey Bosa
The Raiders are lucky enough to have one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL on their roster, but the Chargers have a pretty formidable defender of their own with Joey Bosa.
Bosa currently ranks No. 8 in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and although he’s now just in his second season, the electric defensive end certainly has to be considered one of the elite pass rushers in the league.
Similarly to Melvin Gordon, limiting Bosa will require a good game by all five offensive lineman, but in particular, I’ll be looking to see how Marshall Newhouse handles the challenge on the right side.
Newhouse has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best pass rushers in the game all season, and without the services of Donald Penn on the left side, I’ll be intrigued to see if Newhouse draws more of a responsibility Sunday afternoon.