Originally written on Just Cover Blog  |  Last updated 9/10/12

The final contest of Week 1, surprisingly, will be between the teams expected to fight for 3rd and 4th in the AFC North. Both teams have high ceilings but expectations have been reined in for seemingly yearly disappointment. It must be tough, in 2012, to be a fan of either of these teams. Both are mediocre at best with enough knuckleheads on the sidelines to drive you nuts.

Then again, the excitement is still there before the AFC West  hasn’t been a formidable division since John Elway laced ‘em up. (Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it feels that way).

Hope springs eternal tonight and, for one team, that eternal hope will feel even better tomorrow morning.

Tonight’s Important Numbers (5Dimes)

LINE: Oakland – 1 ½ (-105), San Diego +1 ½ (-115)
OVER/UNDER: 46 ½ (O: -110, Under: -110)

The Breakdown

The Chargers and Raiders have opened the season against each other twice in recent years (2006 and 2009). San Diego won both games, 27-0 and 24-20. Naturally, the result of those games has nothing to do with tonight’s contest but it is worth noting both of those games, like tonight’s contest, were in Oakland.

Both teams finished at the dreaded 8-8 mark last season, although it felt worse for the Raiders. Had Oakland protected home field in last year’s season finale against San Diego, it would have represented the AFC West in the playoffs, not the Denver Tebows… err Broncos. To predict that there might be a little revenge venom dripping from a few Oakland players tonight would be a decent proposition.

Analysis

San Diego is trying to become the AFC’s version of the Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints – a team that almost ignores its defense and tries to outscore people. The problem with that thought – and it’s a major problem – is that San Diego’s offense really isn’t that great. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t in the league’s Top 10, which is what it needs to be for the Chargers to continually play the type of defense they do and get away with it.

The offense got hot late last season, scoring 34 or more points in four of the final five games. The one time it didn’t – at Detroit on Christmas Eve – the Lions won, 38-10. That was about the time Ryan Mathews was really getting healthy and looking like a solid first round draft pick. Unfortunately for Charger nation, Mathews won’t be playing tonight because of his clavicle injury sustained in the preseason opener. Without his 2011 replacement, Mike Tolbert, the Chargers will have to use Ronnie Brown to take some of the load off Philip Rivers’ arm. This is the same Ronnie Brown that has pretty much been useless in recent years in Miami and Philadelphia.

Oakland, unlike San Diego, is trying to make defense a calling card. The problem is the Raiders just don’t have that much talent on defense. Therefore, whether Raiders will admit it or not, Oakland will also be trying to outscore people this season. With Carson Palmer in tow that will be interesting to watch. Darren McFadden will be the best player on the Raiders this season and, if the coaching staff is smart, will let him get around 25 touches a game. He’s the team’s only chance to win 10 games and the AFC West.

The pick

Let’s put it this way: if the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard was operated the same way Fenway Park’s is they might have to bring in a few relievers for tonight’s game. I expect both defenses to look out of sorts and both quarterbacks, while probably not at their best, to find holes and score touchdowns. Both teams will play a lot of 30-something, 20-something games this season and it all beings in Week 1. Look for something along the lines of 31-28 Raiders.

That, my friends, will get you a big hit on the over and also will give you a Raiders cover. I’ll send a “Book It” your way on the over but follow your own heart on the winner. All I can promise is whoever wins will both score and surrender a lot of points.

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