C Nick Hardwick (Donald Miralle/Getty)
The Chargers head to Oakland determined to pick up a division win and boost their record to .500. San Diego has owned the Raiders over the last half decade, but the coaching turmoil in Oakland seems to have united the Silver & Black. Scout.com breaks down the AFC West showdown with injury updates, keys to the game and news from both camps.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
SERIES: 97th meeting. Raiders lead series, 54-40-2, but the Chargers have won nine straight -- their longest streak in this long series. In those nine wins, the Chargers' average margin of victory has been 15.4 points. The Chargers last lost to the Raiders in 2003 at Oakland, when falling 34-31 in overtime.
PREDICTION: Chargers 23-17
KEYS TO THE GAME
Chargers: RB LaDainian Tomlinson is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but he'll finally have his full starting offensive line to run behind with C Nick Hardwick returning to the lineup. With QB Philip Rivers leading the NFL with nine touchdown passes, San Diego should have an explosive run-pass balance Oakland will find nearly impossible to contain for four quarters.
Raiders: With San Diego's pass rush showing signs of life Monday night, don't expect this to be the week Raiders coach Lane Kiffin turns QB JaMarcus Russell loose. Oakland is running the ball on 62 percent of its snaps and should be right around the same mark. When Russell does push the ball downfield, he must be wary of Chargers ballhawking CB Antonio Cromartie because the Raiders can't afford a negative turnover margin.
Chargers: Tomlinson (toe) will play.
Raiders: RB Justin Fargas (groin) is expected to miss another game; RB Darren McFadden (toe) is wearing a boot again this week but should play; DT Gerard Warren (torn pectoral) is uncertain.
FAST FACTS: Rivers has three touchdown passes in all three games this season. ... Russell has thrown 62 passes without an interception this season.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) went through his first practice of the week and looked sharp. He has more success against the Raiders than any other team.
--DT Jamal Williams (knees) practiced and will play Sunday. But the Chargers will give him plenty of rest, rotating in Ryon Bingham.
--LG Kris Dielman (thigh) worked but had a slight limp. It will take more than that to keep Dielman out of the lineup.
--TE Antonio Gates (hip) was moving pretty well during practice and is a go for Sunday.
--C Jeremy Newberry (knees) was able to work as well. If Nick Hardwick were to suffer a setback, Newberry would replace him.
--RB Darren McFadden was limited with a sore turf toe and practiced at about three-quarters speed.
--TE Ben Troupe, who got in some first-team work the previous day, missed practice with a foot injury and is unlikely to face San Diego.
--DE Derrick Burgess did individual drills but did not participate in team sessions because of a triceps tear.
--DT Gerard Warren missed practice with a torn pectoral muscle and will be a game-day decision, but is unlikely to play against San Diego.
--RG Cooper Carlisle missed practice with an ankle injury and will be a game-day decision, but is unlikely to play against San Diego.
--RB Justin Fargas missed practice with a groin injury and won't return until after the Week 5 bye.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Chargers' revved offense figures to attack the Raiders on Sunday with five familiar faces.
For the first time this season, it's expected all five starting offensive linemen will play. The last piece of that puzzle, Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick, went through his second straight practice and appears poised to play in Oakland.
"Nick has made it through both practices and we are making the progress we have hoped for," coach Norv Turner said. "He feels good about it and expects to play."
Hardwick hasn't taken a game snap since last season's AFC championship game. A foot surgery late into the offseason forced him to skip training camp, the exhibition games and the first three regular-season games.
He was replaced admirably by Jeremy Newberry, but there is a different comfort level when Hardwick is in.
"Certainly, you'd love for Nick to be back in there," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Everybody brings their different side to the game, and he brings a different style of play. He pushes the tempo and I think the guys are just used to his voice and comfortable with him in there.
"Things have been great with Jeremy as well, but it was good to have Nick out there in practice. He brings a different energy to the field."
While waiting, Hardwick has been going through the plays in his head.
"I've been doing a lot of mental reps," said Hardwick, "but obviously it's different looking through a facemask. It's going to be a long week of preparation, getting my mind ready to go."
But the best part, mentally, is that he isn't feeling any pain in his foot.
"If I'm playing, I'm fine," he said. "I'll be able to do everything. If not, then I'll have had an issue."
Hardwick's return comes one week after left tackle Marcus McNeill, another Pro Bowler, returned to action from a neck injury.
The Raiders are off to a 1-2 start, but so far have made good on their promise to shore up the NFL's most leaky run defense.
Through three games, Oakland ranks 13th in the NFL in run defense, giving up 104 yards per game, and is 11th in terms of yards per carry, giving up 3.8.
The latter figure is down a full yard from a league-worst 4.8 in 2007. The Raiders finished 31st in yards per game, giving up 145.9 yards per game.
Included in the carnage were 100-plus-yard rushing efforts to 10 different running backs over the course of the season.
The Raiders never played back-to-back games where they didn't give up 100 yards to an opposing back.
Contrast that to the first three games of this season, where Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch needed 23 carries to gain 83 yards -- 3.6 yards per carry -- the most by an individual back against the Raiders this season.
"I think we're just starting to come together," linebacker Kirk Morrison said. "We're all on the same page and it's showing with what we're doing against the run."
The big test for the Raiders comes Sunday against the San Diego Chargers in the form of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson is off to a slow start with a toe injury, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry with 190 yards on 57 carries.
It is against Oakland, however, where Tomlinson comes alive.
In 14 regular-season games against the Raiders since 2001, Tomlinson has 1,709 yards rushing.
With the division title wrapped up in last year's regular-season finale, Tomlinson had just 56 yards on 16 carries. In five games in Oakland from 2002 through 2006, Thomas averaged 155 yards per game with a high of 187 in 2003.
"Tomlinson seems not quite up to full speed, but I'm sure he'll be geared up to play us," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "Our run defense has been much better through three games. It will be a big test for us."