QB Philip Rivers (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders will renew their rivalry under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Here's a pre-game roundup complete with keys to the game, injury news and predictions.
KICKOFF: Monday, 10:15 ET
TV: ESPN (Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Steve Young)
SERIES: 99th regular-season meeting. The Raiders lead the series 54-42-2 but have dropped the last 11. No other team in the long history of the Raiders has beaten them that many times in a row. That makes the Chargers' latest run even more impressive -- as well as it being against the Chargers' biggest rival. The teams' biggest meeting was the AFC championship game in 1980. The Chargers were gunning for their first Super Bowl before getting pushed aside 34-27 at home.
PREDICTION: Chargers 27-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: For all of the Chargers' weapons in the passing game, they really want to get RB LaDainian Tomlinson involved early. With rookie RG Louis Vasquez starting, San Diego's goal will be to get the offensive line creating a push from the outset. Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha typically shuts down half the field, but will be playing with a soft case to protect an injured wrist. The Raiders announced rookie WRs Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy will start, but expect a heavy lean in the play-calling toward the run. The passing game will likely feature plenty of max protection for QB JaMarcus Russell out of two-tight end sets.
FAST FACTS: The Chargers have an 11-game winning streak in the series. ... The Raiders have lost at least 11 games for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons.
-- RG Louis Vasquez, a third-round pick, makes his NFL debut in a starting role. Vasquez was playing in the Texas Tech spread offense this time last year.
-- RT Jeromey Clary will help Louis Vasquez, but the Chargers are looking for a better year out of Clary as well. They talked up his improvement heading into the season, but he was spun a time or two in the preseason.
-- WR Buster Davis didn't figure to be a big part of the offense but he may be down Monday. Davis has a balky knee, which has hampered his practice time.
-- DT Jamal Williams, the force in the middle of the 3-4, is looking and sounding as healthy as he has been in some time.
-- ILB Kevin Burnett gets his first Chargers start, opposite Stephen Cooper. Burnett came over in the offseason and won a starting job in camp.
-- OLB Larry English, the team's first-round pick, will be part of the regular rotation on passing downs, subbing for Shawne Merriman.
--LB Ricky Brown, who worked at both strong-side and middle linebacker during training camp, will start at strong-side linebacker, replacing Jon Alston.
--WR Chaz Schilens remains out recovering from a broken metatarsal and will return for Week 2 at the earliest.
--OT Khalif Barnes is out of a cast and going through drills with the defense but won't be ready to play until Week 2 at the earliest.
--RB Justin Fargas has missed more than a week of practice with a hamstring strain and his status for the San Diego game is questionable.
--LB Isaiah Ekejiuba missed the last three preseason games with a shoulder dislocation but is expected to play against San Diego.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Chargers head to Oakland, and what a nice thought that is.
The Raiders have rolled over 11 straight times against the Chargers and No. 12 doesn't seem that farfetched.
Especially with a new face on the franchise in Philip Rivers.
The Chargers recently awarded him a $92 million contract, cementing his standing in the organization. This comes after he tied for the NFL lead with 34 touchdown passes last year and was tops with a 105.5 rating.
HC Norv Turner
Coach Norv Turner was asked if Rivers deserves to be mentioned among the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
"I always look at this way, you go by production and if you go by what Philip has done, the way he's progressed, after three years as a starter, this is his fourth year, the way he's progressed in terms of being in our system, I really think he took off midway through the year two years ago and has played at an extremely high level,'' Turner said.
"So I don't know if you start comparing people, but I certainly compare production, and he's had production.''
Rivers is also going for his fourth straight AFC West title in his fourth season as a starter. If he pulls it off, it will be a first for the organization.
LaDainian Tomlinson said Rivers is already among the NFL's best.
"He took that step last year, being able to deliver for us a lot of those wins that we had last year and going to the second round of the playoffs,'' he said. "A lot of that is because of Philip and his development.
"I look for him to keep on developing. The sky's the limit for this guy. He has all the physical tools. He's going to continue to get better. I can't wait to see how good he gets at the peak of his game.''
The Chargers, and the Raiders, get a peek at what 2010 might bring for Rivers on Monday night.
As Richard Seymour remains in limbo -- not a member of the New England Patriots but not exactly a Raider either -- some of his defensive teammates are eager to have him aboard.
The Raiders have ranked 31st and 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense over the past two years and never better than 22nd over the past six years.
The player who stands to benefit most would be Tommy Kelly, the defensive tackle who signed a contract with a guaranteed $18.125 million before the 2008 season and did not have a huge impact.
Owner Al Davis said following the season he thought Kelly would be better this year, one full season removed from ACL surgery.
Kelly is similar in physical stature to Seymour and also plays both inside and outside, first starting as a defensive end and then replacing Warren Sapp at tackle. Kelly figures there are more than a few things Seymour can teach him.
"You can't help but admire his game," Kelly said. "There's a person I kind of want to be like. It gives me a chance to see him up close and personal, how he practices, how he prepares for a game.
"You play with real good players, especially defensive tackles and ends, you kind of take something out of their game."
Kelly started training camp with a run of offside penalties and was drawing criticism given the team's continued struggle stopping the run in the preseason against San Francisco and New Orleans, in particular.
Coach Tom Cable, however, said Kelly has actually played well and more then held his own inside.
Seymour's arrival would draw extra attention elsewhere on the line, with the veteran playing right end on early downs and moving inside to help Kelly push the pocket on passing downs.
"Any time you put a big Pro Bowler up front like that, it immediately upgrades you," Kelly said. "He brings a lot of versatility to the defense."