In the second game of the 1978 season, the Oakland Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers on the final play of the game. The box score reads nothing unusual–only that tight end Dave Casper recovered a fumble for the game-winning score. But the play was anything but usual.
The Raiders were on San Diego’s 14-yard line; quarterback Ken Stabler was in the shotgun. With ten seconds remaining, Stabler took the snap and broke to his right immediately. Chargers’ linebacker Woody Lowe bore down, grabbing Stabler by left-arm and dragging him to Coliseum dirt at the 24-yard line. Out of desperation, Stabler flipped the ball forward. It tumbled along toward the endzone, kicking up dust in its wake. It was a clear illegal forward pass. It was ruled a fumble.
Running back Pete Banaszak lunged and knocked the ball further toward the endzone where Casper stood, unaware of his accidental fate. Casper, watching the ball fall end-over-end into his lap, kicked it past the goal-line before finally collapsing on it. The referee raised his hands in confirmation: Touchdown, Oakland Raiders. The players raised their hands in celebration. The San Diego Chicken raised his hands in desolation.
“It was all surreal. It was part cartoon and part Rod Serling.” said the San Diego Chicken. “It was just absolute lunacy in a surreal sense in the fact that nobody could really figure if this was going to count, if this was going to be good, or if the Chargers were going to have their victory.”
“I cannot think of a more outrageous form of outright Raider thievery and cheating that’s ever occured,” the San Diego Chicken continued.
Today marks the 34th anniversary of that play, known as “The Holy Roller.” It will mark the 107th time the Raiders and Chargers have faced each other, and perhaps the rebirth of a rivalry.
The Chargers have won 14 of the past 17 meetings against the Raiders, though the Raiders have won three of the last four. But since 2002, the Chargers have won the AFC West five times. The Raiders, zero.
This year looks to be different. For starters, the Raiders are actually expected to win (this is the first time they’ve been a favorite on Monday Night Football since 2003). While they will still look to feature an explosive offense, the Raiders will do so under a defensive-minded head coach, the first of his kind since John Madden. They will also do so without Al Davis — the team’s first opening kickoff without Al Davis as (part) owner since 1966. That’s a lot of firsts.
But just how different will this year’s team will be? Well, we’ll know pretty quickly. Since 2003, the Raiders have begun the season 0-1 eight times (they’ve haven’t started a season 2-0 since 2002). A win against the Chargers would prove a lot.
Why They’ll Win
The past ten years aside, the Raiders have dominated the Chargers. Oakland is 57-45-4 all-time against San Diego. In his career as a coach — not just a head coach — Dennis Allen is 3-1 against the Chargers. As a defensive coordinator, Allen held Phillip Rivers in check. In two games against Allen, Rivers averaged only 219 yards passing and a 56% completion rate in two games.
The Raiders will feature quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden together for the first time, ever. While this is significant for a myriad of reasons, it mostly means that the Chargers have no way of masking their awful run defense. Last season, the Chargers’ front seven ranked 25th in Adjusted Line Yards (yards-per-carry the defensive front seven were responsible for) and dead last in power situations (3rd/4th and short/goal).
Though the Chargers spent a lot of capital improving their defense–adding linebacker Jarrett Johnson and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, as well as drafting linebacker Melvin Ingram in the first round and defensive end Kendall Reyes in the second – the Raiders have one of the best offensive line in the league. Because of that, the Raiders should have no difficulty establishing the run. If they can then utilize play-action for big gains, the game should be close.
Why They Won’t Win
The Raiders defense will be outmatched. Sure, the Chargers will be starting undrafted rookie Mike Harris at left tackle and will be without Ryan Mathews, but the Chargers offense will still be too much for the Raiders to handle. Robert Meachem was the 9th most explosive receiver in the league last season, according to Football Outsiders. His teammate, Malcolm Floyd, was the second. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ starting cornerbacks did not play in 2011 and have not shown well in the preseason. Philip Wheeler, the Raiders’ best linebacker in coverage, was ranked as the 71st cover linebacker by Football Outsiders. He stopped only 39% of passes thrown his way. He faces a tall task in Antonio Gates.
Who We’re Taking
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders (Pick ‘em)
Bay Area Sports Guy: The reason why this is a “pick ‘em” is probably because nobody knows what to expect from the Raiders. They’re in the middle of the overall transition they’ve needed to make for years, but will they suffer from depth issues as a result? All I know is this iteration of the Chargers is ridiculously tiresome. Enough A.J. Smith, enough Norv Turner. It’s time for San Diego’s transition. Pick: Raiders
East Bay Sports Guy: Had the Raiders not cut DeMarcus Van Dyke, my answer might have been different. All jokes aside, the Chargers are a more complete team. Pick: Chargers
Bay Area Stats Guy: My projection system is a bit baffled that this game is a pick; in the simulations the Chargers won the game 61% of the time with an average margin of victory of 5 points. The median margin of victory came out at 3 points with the most common margin at 7 points in favor of the Chargers. This is the first iteration of my projection model, so maybe I unknowingly biased it against the Raiders. If I was going to sell you my picks this would be my gimme game that I sold as my “stone cold lock.” Pick: Chargers
Ruthless Sports Guy: The Raiders love playing under the lights, and as East Bay Sports Guy pointed out, Philip Rivers has struggled against Dennis Allen’s defense. Darren McFadden is healthy, so Oakland’s offense won’t have to rely on Carson Palmer’s arm all night. Pick: Raiders
Bay Area Duck Guy: The Raiders are obviously a new team without Al Davis and under the leadership of Dennis Allen. Oakland’s defense should be better, and Carson Palmer has now had an entire offseason to learn the offense. For some reason, the public always loves the Chargers at the beginning of every season, but they always fail. They will again Monday. Pick: Raiders
For all of our picks, go here.