Now for the second half of this underwhelming Monday Night spread:
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
Line: Chargers by 9 1/2
If the Raiders had been something other than the laughing stock of the league since they fired Jon Gruden and lost a Super Bowl to him, this rivalry might have some juice. One will often see the Chargers lauded as "the NFL's most talented team," yet they have yet to display a Lombardi trophy to validate such claims. The lack of hardware should not distract you from realizing that this is a really good team, with the pieces and potential to be more than really good. The Raiders, on the complete other hand, are an unmitigated disaster, run by a crazy old man who still thinks he's picking personnel for his 1970's teams. There is, surprisingly, talent on this team, and if they've put the whole "Tom Cable punching guys" thing behind them, might just have enough not-sucking-horribly in them to make a game of this.
The Chargers started slow last year, and even though Ladanian Tomlinson (I'll never call him LT...sorry) played in the preseason, I have this weird gut feeling that this year won't be totally different. They'll win more games, but I just feel like it'll take San Diego 3 or 4 games to really hit their stride. I think Shawne Merriman will be a big part of the slow start as he works his way back from significant knee surgery. He will be a monster pass-rushing force again this year, I just don't know if he's at that form here in Week One.
Assuming Richard Seymour shows up and plays, the Oakland defense might be able to keep from getting blown out. Adding Seymour to a group that includes standout CB Nnamdi Asomugha and underrated LB Kirk Morrison actually makes that a decent group. The offense has speed everywhere, but they haven't shown me enough to make me believe in their point-scoring ability. They should be able to run the ball a bit, but the passing game won't be much of a test for Cromartie and company.
For the Chargers, Philip Rivers is a full-blown star, and should have a pretty good year throwing to the likes of Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. Let us not forget, also, that Tomlinson is the third best pass-catching starting RB in the league (Maurice Jones-Drew and Deangelo Williams top my list), and if healthy, should be a big time weapon again. I expect SD's defense to be very good, though maybe not spectacular yet. As Merriman rounds into form, they are likely to return to dominance, but as mentioned above, I'll give them a couple weeks to grow.
I'd hate to be accused of being a front-runner this early in Big Freeze Football's lifespan, so I will go very slightly against my better judgment on this game. I would have to be drunk or stupid to pick the Raiders to win outright, so chalk this one up for the Chargers, but I don't think it's ridiculous to see Oakland covering that 9 1/2 point spread. As for total points, I think the over is a safe bet, but that mostly depends on how explosive San Diego is. Chargers look like the more dominant team, and the Raiders close the gap with a useless, garbage time touchdown that makes the game look less one-sided than it was.
I'll play it somewhat safe and hold off on calling this for an upset, but I say Chargers win, Raiders cover the spread.
After my Thursday night pick, I'm 1-0 straight up, 1-0 against the spread. Here's hoping this bold call keeps me undefeated. Disagree violently in the Comments.