There are a decidedly different set of stakes attached for the teams facing off on Thursday night in Week 15.
The 7-6 Las Vegas Raiders look to rebound from an ugly stretch of football that has dropped them to the outside looking in at the AFC playoff race. The 4-9 Los Angeles Chargers are most assuredly not in the hunt despite having one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league. Because of that, head coach Anthony Lynn is likely coaching for his job for the remainder of the season.
The AFC West rivalry can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
Hot Raiders start fizzling out
Through nine weeks, the Raiders were busy bucking the backlash of a season marred by COVID-19 controversy en route to a 6-3 start. They handed the Kansas City Chiefs their only loss and watched quarterback Derek Carr flourish in his third season playing in head coach Jon Gruden’s system.
After two seasons of chaos off the field and mediocrity on it under Gruden, the Raiders were hitting their stride in their Las Vegas debut — even amid a rash of irresponsible COVID-19 behavior that prompted an avalanche of NFL penalties.
Brutal month for Raiders
Then Week 11 arrived, kicking off a four-week stretch that has seen the wheels fall off. The Raiders lost at home to the Chiefs that week — a 35-31 defeat to football’s best team that added a blemish to the loss column, but didn’t set off alarms.
Week 12 brought all the sirens in the form of an inexplicable 43-6 loss to the 3-6 Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta posted its highest point total and its best defensive effort of the season by a long shot that Sunday.
The Raiders got back in the win column in Week 13. But the 31-28 victory against the winless New York Jets provided little comfort in Las Vegas — especially considering that the Raiders won only because of a desperation play aided by one of the worst defensive gaffes in football history.
Last week’s 44-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts prompted Gruden to immediately fire defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. A once-promising season had quickly devolved into one prompting a midseason coaching dismissal.
More COVID problems in Las Vegas
The Raiders are still in the playoff hunt. They’re going to have to scrap their way into the postseason in a highly competitive AFC wild-card race. They’ll almost certainly have to beat the Chargers on Thursday to stay alive. And they’ll have to do so without rookie receiver and Week 13 hero Henry Ruggs, who landed on the reserve/COVID list on Tuesday.
The matchup looks like good news for the Raiders. While the past month in Las Vegas has been a tailspin, the entire season has been a mess for the Chargers, who continue their long tradition of finding dramatic ways to lose late. Maybe Philip Rivers wasn’t to blame.
Can Anthony Lynn save his job?
With a nod to Adam Gase, Lynn’s seat may be the hottest in the NFL. Lynn has the advantage of a quarterback in the midst of a historic rookie season in Justin Herbert. He has four wins to show for it.
And if it were up to him, Tyrod Taylor would likely still be playing quarterback. The only reason Herbert got his shot to begin with was because someone on Lynn’s medical staff punctured Taylor’s lung. And only when Herbert’s excellent play week after week forced his hand did Lynn concede that the job was his.
Lynn’s Chargers have a habit of making tactical and fundamental errors — like punting the ball back to Patrick Mahomes in overtime on fourth-and-1 in a Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. Then there was Week 13’s special teams fiasco in a 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots. And there was last week’s botched field-goal effort to end the half against the Atlanta Falcons.
Lynn’s fate may already be sealed. If he’s going to save his job, a win on Thursday — and the final two weeks of the season — could be a must.
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