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Raiders-Chargers Showdown: 5 keys to the game

A spot in the playoffs is at stake on Sunday

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert against the Raiders in Week 4
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders are playing their most important game in five years on Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Chargers in the final NFL 2021 regular season game at 5:20 p.m. PT.

The winner of this matchup of two 9-7 teams will advance to the playoffs. It’s going to be epic.

Here are five things to watch for in the game:

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa, Derek Carr
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Bosa vs. Carr:
This is a juicy subplot to a game already teeming with storylines. After the Chargers beat the Raiders 28-14 in Week 4, LA’s star defensive end Joey Bosa said the Chargers “shook” Carr and he “shuts down” when hit. Carr responded by saying Bosa “pissed him off” and that the Raiders will “see them again.” Someone is going to get the last laugh in this game since both Carr and Bosa are central to their team’s chances of winning.

Don’t let Herbert take over:
Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert will be the best quarterback the Raiders have faced since Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in Week 14. The Raiders played backups in Week 15 and 16, and in Week 17 Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Carson Wentz was rusty after not practicing all week due to COVID issues. The Raiders will have to account for Hebert, who has been good against them and had three touchdown passes against Las Vegas in Week 4. In three career games against the Raiders, Herbert has tossed seven touchdown passes and has not been intercepted.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Derek Carr
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Carr goes for team record:
Carr should set the Raiders’ franchise record for passing yards in a single season in the first half. He needs to throw for 82 yards to pass Rich Gannon’s team record of 4,689 passing yards set in 2002. Gannon won the NFL MVP award that season but his record was set in a 16-game season, and this is the first year of 17-game regular seasons in the NFL. Carr, who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards the past four seasons, has smashed his personal season yardage record of 4,103 yards set in 2020.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Hunter Renfrow
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Renfrow goes for team record:
Carr isn’t the only Raider on the cusp of breaking a team record. Las Vegas slot receiver Hunter Renfrow needs nine catches to set the team record for catches in a single season. Star tight end Darren Waller set the mark last season with 107 catches. Nine catches is a lot, but Renfrow has been a on a tear of late. He’s had nine or more catches in two games this season.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Austin Ekeler scored against the Raiders in October
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Contain Ekeler:
While not letting Herbert take over is a major task for the Raiders’ defense, they need to make sure Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler doesn’t hurt them. Ekeler had a season-high 117 yards on 15 carries against the Raiders in Week 4. He also scored twice in the game. The Raiders’ run defense has improved down the stretch and it can’t let up against Ekeler.