The San Diego Chargers have the league's leading rusher, a defense getting healthier and the inside track for the AFC's No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
The Oakland Raiders, meanwhile, are hoping to see something from their top overall pick that will make them believe they can be a postseason team in the future.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made San Diego -9 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 43 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego -9 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Led by reigning league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and with two keys to their defense getting back in game shape, the AFC West champion Chargers will try to solidify their playoff positioning on Sunday when they meet the Raiders, who will give JaMarcus Russell his first start at quarterback.
With a win, San Diego (10-5) will host either Tennessee or Cleveland in the wild-card round. More importantly, the Chargers wouldn't have to face Jacksonville, which handed them their last loss on Nov. 18.
"I think it's pretty important to be the third seed and play the last team in," Tomlinson said. "We're familiar with Tennessee, because we played 'em this year. And Cleveland, we're kind of familiar with because we played them in the past."
Should San Diego lose this game and Pittsburgh beats 4-11 Baltimore, the Steelers would secure the No. 3 seed.
To win their sixth straight, the Chargers will look to Tomlinson to keep tormenting the Raiders. He has eight career 100-yard rushing games versus Oakland, and in 13 games against them overall he's averaging 127.2 rushing yards with 16 touchdowns.
In the last meeting, Tomlinson matched a career high with four rushing scores among 24 carries for 198 yards in a 28-14 win on Oct. 14. It was San Diego's eighth straight win over Oakland.
There is a chance Tomlinson may not play much to ensure he remains healthy for the postseason. He had 107 yards, including a 17-yard scoring run, before sitting out most of the second half with a tender hamstring on Monday night in a 23-3 win over Denver.
Still, Tomlinson moved past injured Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker to become the league rushing leader with 1,418 yards - 113 more than his closest pursuer, Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson. Last season, Tomlinson led the league with a career-high 1,815 rushing yards, 26 more than Kansas City's Larry Johnson.
Tomlinson said the rushing title is as important to his linemen as to him.
"These guys were coming up to me every week, 'How close are you?'" Tomlinson said. "I could see it in their eyes that that's important to them. Not to say that it's not important, but if they have that much concern, it's something they take pride in, I definitely want to deliver for them."
San Diego also got contributions from defensive lineman Luis Castillo and linebacker Shawne Merriman. Castillo returned after missing six games following ankle surgery and sacked Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler on the opening drive, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Merriman after he missed one game with a knee sprain. Merriman, headed to his third straight Pro Bowl, had 2 1/2 sacks against Oakland earlier this season.
The Raiders (4-11), meanwhile, want to see if Russell truly is a long-term solution at quarterback. The former LSU star was the last first-round pick to sign with his team after a lengthy holdout, and finally saw his first extended playing time last Sunday in a 49-11 loss to the Jaguars.
Russell was 7-for-23 for 83 yards with a touchdown pass, but also had three interceptions and a fumble.
"Obviously, there's a lot of things to learn from today," Russell said. "Things didn't go the way we wanted to, but I learned things and that's what you want."
First-year coach Lane Kiffin was a little harder on his quarterback Monday when asked what Russell needed to improve.
"Where do you start?" Kiffin said. "Ball handling in the run game. Footwork in the passing game. Decision making, timing, accuracy. You name it, it was out there on film yesterday.
"I haven't been around decision making like that before, as far as just throwing the ball up across the field like he did a number of times. I'm sure that didn't help his confidence. Your first time playing an extended amount of time like that, to not have success can't help."
The Raiders have been outscored 77-31 in three straight home losses to the Chargers. Last season, Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter combined to go 8-for-19 for just 96 yards in a 27-0 defeat there to San Diego.
Oakland could be without defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who may be suspended for being ejected after getting three personal fouls late in the first half against the Jaguars. Sapp was accused of bumping umpire Garth DeFelice during the argument.
Sapp said Wednesday that he doesn't expect a suspension.
``Come on, I've never touched anybody in any shape, form or anything,'' Sapp said. ``I've never been in a fight in this league. It's not about a fight.''
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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