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Raiders hoping to spoil Chargers' seeding party

For the fourth consecutive week, Oakland will play a playoff-bound team. Chargers are looking to lock up the No. 3 seed.

December 30, 2007|From the Associated Press

OAKLAND -- For three straight weeks, the Oakland Raiders have served as the perfect patsy for playoff-bound opponents looking to hold clinching parties.

First, it was Green Bay wrapping up the NFC North. Then, Indianapolis beat the Raiders to win its division, and, last week, Jacksonville clinched its playoff berth with a 49-11 thrashing of Oakland.

San Diego already has locked up its second straight AFC West title, but a win at Oakland today would give the Chargers something almost as important: the No. 3 seed.

By beating out Pittsburgh for that coveted spot, the Chargers (10-5) would play Tennessee or Cleveland in the opening round instead of Jacksonville, and would be assured of not playing top-seeded New England until at least the AFC title game.

"Honestly, at the end of the day, we were the first seed last year and it didn't matter," defensive lineman Luis Castillo said. "We still lost and we still got knocked out. The whole focus this year was just to get to the playoffs. Get to the dance and we can take it from there. That's the focus right now. Let's get right. We're going to play an intense game in Oakland and we're going to do things the right way."

While many of the Chargers downplay the importance of seeding after losing to New England as the top seed a year ago, Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin thinks it's clear whom San Diego would rather play.

The Jaguars (11-4) are the last team to beat the Chargers, winning, 24-17, last month, and San Diego already won at Tennessee (9-6) earlier this season.

That's probably why coach Norv Turner isn't planning to sit his starters for this game against the Raiders (4-11) as Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden did last week in San Francisco with only seeding on the line.

"I think it's obvious who they'd rather play," Kiffin said. "They have a lot to play for, so you do see them at their best."

The biggest obstacle standing between the Chargers and the No. 3 seed is a talented but untested rookie quarterback set to make his first start in the NFL. If history is any guide, the Chargers don't figure to have much to worry about when they take on JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders.

While being a quarterback picked first in the draft usually generates big contracts and loads of hype, it rarely leads to a win in the first start. Of the 15 quarterbacks taken with the top pick since the common draft began in 1967, only David Carr with Houston and Jim Plunkett with New England earned a win in their debuts.

Atlanta did win the first game Michael Vick started and Denver won with John Elway, but the winning scores were thrown by their backups in those games.

Only three of the quarterbacks completed more than 50% of their passes, while collectively the 15 quarterbacks completed 47% of their passes with 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

"When you're dealing with a younger quarterback you want to make him make some decisions right away," San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "I think we have to come in here and do some different things and really apply some pressure on him and do it early."

The Jaguars were able to do that to Russell last week in his first extensive playing time. Russell, who played five series total in two previous games, played nearly all of the final three quarters against the Jaguars. He was seven of 23 for 83 yards, but turned the ball over four times.

Kiffin criticized Russell for "extremely poor decision making." Russell said he has to learn that some of the plays he was able to make with ease in college don't work against NFL defenses.

The one bright spot came on the final drive, when Russell threw a two-yard pass to Zach Miller for his first career touchdown.

"This time I plan on doing a lot better," Russell said. "I was just trying to make things happen. . . . I try to make any and every throw because I feel like I'm confident and I can make that. But just looking back on it, there's times where I can just keep that down and get two or three yards and hold the ball for your team for the next drive or series."

Turner has had experience with heralded rookie quarterbacks from his time as offensive coordinator in Dallas during Troy Aikman's rookie season. Turner said the only way for a young quarterback to get better is to play.

Turner had the chance to see Russell up close during a pregame workout before the teams played in San Diego in October.

"I was just kind of blown away, impressed with his ability, his physical ability, his ability to throw a football, his accuracy and all that," Turner said. "He's going to be an outstanding player and he's going to go through what all young guys go through. There's a process to where you get to where you're ready to play."

There are a few other things at stake in the season finale, including LaDainian Tomlinson's bid to wrap up his second straight NFL rushing title for San Diego.

Tomlinson heads into the finale with 1,418 yards, 113 ahead of Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson and 127 ahead of Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook.

The Raiders are also looking to end an eight-game skid against the Chargers.

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