By Dave Thomas
When you’re the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders, it does not take much inspiration to rile up two long-time foes.
As two original members of the old AFL, San Diego (4-10) and Oakland (6-8) certainly have no love lost for one another. Throw in the fact that this could be the last time the two teams play in their current cities, and you have all the markings of a hotly contested game come Christmas Eve in the Bay Area.
For San Diego, the season has been fraught with disappointment at just about every turn.
Playoff Aspirations Were Doomed Early On
Projected to compete for the AFC West crown and make a run in the playoffs, San Diego stumbled out of the gate at 1-2 to start the month of September. After narrowly beating an equally bad Cleveland team the first Sunday in October, the Chargers have proceeded to go 2-8 over their next 10 games. With injuries (mainly on the offensive line) and sloppy play to boot, the Bolts were doomed for a long season, one in which head coach Mike McCoy could likely pay the price for shortly after the Denver game on Jan. 3.
Meantime, Oakland has shown improvement this season under first-year head coach Jack Del Rio, but the Raiders will once again be on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season.
In their first meeting back in San Diego in October, Oakland struck early and often, rolling to a 37-29 victory, a game in which the final score was not all that indicative of how much the Raiders controlled the play.
Both Teams Have Eyes On 2016
Now meeting (Oakland leads all-time series 60-50-2) in the next to last game of the regular season, both teams are looking to 2016, with both hoping for a decent first-round draft choice in next spring’s draft with which to add another key piece to their respective teams.
San Diego comes into this 113th meeting all-time missing starting running back Melvin Gordon (641 yards rushing on the season).
The rookie from Wisconsin suffered a season-ending knee injury in last Sunday’s 30-14 victory over Miami. As a result, the Chargers noted signing running back Dreamius Smith to the active roster.
One player who is expected to see a good share of the handoffs and receptions against the Raiders is all-purpose back Danny Woodhead. Woodhead, who has rushed for 270 yards and three TDs to date this season, has also been a force to be reckoned with on the receiving end. Going into Thursday’s game, Woodhead has caught 64 balls for 651 yards and six touchdowns.
Meantime, San Diego’s defense will look to put the clamps on rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Alabama product is having a solid rookie season, having caught 68 balls for 1,040 yards and six touchdowns.
Lastly, this will mark the final time that future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson plays against the Chargers. Woodson, who has spent 18 years terrorizing opposing offenses, will retire following Oakland’s regular-season finale Jan. 3 in Kansas City.
King Dunlap, tackle (ankle)
Kyle Emanuel, outside linebacker (concussion)
Ladarius Green, tight end (ankle)
Stevie Johnson, wide receiver (groin)
Sean Lissemore, nose tackle (shoulder)
Steve Williams, corner (hip)
Melvin Gordon, running back (knee)
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.