AP file photo – In a Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. It could be a remarkable scene Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 when the Oakland Raiders, closing in on their first playoff berth since their Super Bowl season of 2002, face a fading Chargers franchise that could be in the death throes of its 56-season run in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND, Calif — One more step, and the Oakland Raiders can end 14 years of misery and disappointment.
With a win over the Chargers in San Diego, Oakland can punch their ticket to the playoffs since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2002. That season ended with a trip to Super Bowl XXXVII where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Diego.
Oakland (10-3) is tied for first place in the AFC West and has a two-game lead in the wild-card race with three games to go.
Can you believe it? It was just two years ago that the Silver and Black were just an abysmal mess, sitting at 0-10.
The Raiders saw their six-game winning streak snap by the Chiefs 21-13 in Kansas City last Thursday night.
Quarterback Derek Carr continues to have his issues with Kansas City, but the loss wasn’t entirely on his shoulders.
Carr completed just 17-of-41 passes for 117 yards, but the third-year signal caller was victimized by drops from wide receiver Seth Roberts and a missing on a potential game-tying touchdown deep down the middle to Amari Cooper in the third quarter.
Cooper’s led all Oakland wide receivers with five catches for 29 yards. Cooper, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, enters Sunday’s matchup with 1,010 receiving yards and ranks sixth in the league with 73 catches.
With San Diego decimated by injuries (the Chargers have 18 players on injured reserve), this is a game where Carr, Cooper, and fellow wide receiver Michael Crabtree (71 catches, 806 receiving yards, and 7 TDs) can do some damage and get Oakland’s offensive fluidity back on track.
Khalil Mack is the center of the universe in Oakland’s 30th ranked defense, and is no doubt the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Mack is tied for third with Washington defensive end Ryan Kerrigan with 11 sacks and has recorded one sack in eight consecutive games. Mack also has 61 tackles, five forced fumbles, and one interception (a pick-6) on the season.
San Diego (5-8) is mercifully looking for the season to end and maybe playing Oakland for the last time at Qualcomm Stadium.
After San Diego voters shot down a stadium proposal last month, the Chargers inch closer to moving to Los Angeles when the NFL owners unanimously approved a tenant-lease contract between the Chargers and Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday.
The Chargers have until Jan. 15 to exercise an option to relocate to Los Angeles.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is on pace for his eighth 4,000-yard passing season with 3,589 yards and fifth 30-touchdown passing season with 27 touchdowns, but Rivers has been a turnover machine with a league-high 17 interceptions.
Rivers was solely responsible for five turnovers — three interceptions and two strip-sack fumbles in San Diego’s 28-16 loss at Carolina in Week 14.
As a team, San Diego has a league-worse 30 turnovers this season.
Running back Melvin Gordon, who is on the brink of his first 1,000-yard rushing season with 997 yards on the ground, is out for Sunday’s game with a hip injury. Gordon was carted off the field against Carolina.
With top wide receiver Keenan Allen lost for the season in Week 1 with a torn ACL, Tyrell Williams has become Rivers’ favorite deep-threat.
The second-year undrafted wide receiver from Western Oregon has been one of the brighter spots for San Diego this season, leading the team in catches (55), receiving yards 905, and tied for touchdowns (6).
Williams has three 100-yard receiving games this season, one of them was a five-catch, 117 yards and a touchdown against Oakland in Week 5.
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who signed with San Diego in the offseason, also recorded 117 receiving yards on seven catches in Oakland.
The Raiders, who have had trouble this season covering the tight end, must account for future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates and rookie Hunter Henry who both scored against the Raiders.
Oakland has won the last three meetings against San Diego, most recently a 34-31 affair at the Oakland Coliseum on Oct. 9. Carr threw for 317 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Rivers passed for 359 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.