The final matchup of a wild week one takes place in the Black Hole of Oakland, as the Raiders play host to the Chargers and head coach Norv Turner.
After finishing with identical records in 2011, these AFC West rivals will begin this season Monday night where last year’s ended – in Oakland.
Mark Davis took over as Raiders owner in October following the passing of his father, Al Davis, who was also the franchise’s longtime general manager. Davis’ son hired Reggie McKenzie, formerly with Green Bay, as his GM shortly after last season, then McKenzie fired coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
“We respect what Mr. Davis was able to do here, the brand he created with this organization,” said Allen, who at 39 is the league’s youngest head coach. “We’re going to do it our way. That’s the only way we know how to do it. Reggie and I have a plan, and we hope to have success doing it that way.”
One of Oakland’s first steps in that plan is to bounce back from a miserable end to 2011. The Raiders were 7-4 and leading the AFC West before dropping four of their final five games to finish 8-8 for the second straight year.
They could have won the division at home in the season finale but lost 38-26 to the Chargers.
Oakland hasn’t posted a winning record or made the playoffs since reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. Having quarterback Carson Palmer for a full season could help, as could a healthier Darren McFadden.
Palmer, who refused to play for Cincinnati after the 2010 season, was acquired Oct. 23 and threw for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 games.
After rushing for more than 1,100 yards the previous season, McFadden was limited to seven games in 2011 because of a foot injury. He hasn’t played in all 16 games in any of his four NFL campaigns.
The Raiders also are seeking to shore up a defense that became the sixth since the 1970 merger to give up at least 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in one season.
The Chargers, meanwhile, will have a new defensive coordinator, John Pagano, as they try to bounce back from an 8-8 finish. The team also used its first three draft picks on defensive players, including outside linebacker Melvin Ingram in the first round.
San Diego hopes those additions help it reach the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Despite those lackluster campaigns and a disappointing playoff performance in 2009, the Chargers chose to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.
Wins in four of the final five games might have helped Turner and Smith hold on to their jobs. San Diego finished a win shy of overtaking Denver for the division title after a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season wounded their hopes for a fifth crown in six years.
To have a better campaign, the Chargers could use an improved performance from Philip Rivers. The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback topped 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season in 2011 but also had a career-high 20 interceptions.
The Bolts feel they can rebound off a bad season and win the AFC West, and their journey starts Monday night in the second game of the doubleheader in Oakland. The Raiders have a new coach, but an old QB in Carson Palmer. Look for San Diego’s D to lead the way, and for the Raiders offense to have struggles, enough not to keep up with Rivers.
San Diego 17 Oakland 10