Five things to watch: Raiders-Chargers

Let’s take a look at some of the keys to a critical AFC West game between the Oakland Raiders and host San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

The two teams are 4-4 and are tied with Kansas City for first place in the division. Thus, the winner will start the second half with an early edge in this wild race.

Both teams need a win badly. The Chargers have lost three straight games, and they have not lost four straight since the 2003 season. Oakland has lost back-to-back games at home to Kansas City and Denver by a total of 42 points.

Will it come down to the YAC? We have to watch what the Chargers do with the ball after completions, because it could be a major factor in this game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have gained 1,178 yards after the catch this season. It’s the third most in the NFL.

On the other hand, Oakland’s defense has allowed 1,036 yards after the catch this season. It’s the fifth most in the NFL. Drives are made on yards after the catch, so Oakland has to find a way to slow down San Diego.

Can Rivers come through when it counts? Philip Rivers’ problems this year have been well documented. He has thrown 14 interceptions, which is eight fewer than his combined total of the past two years. But Rivers' critical mistakes in the fourth quarter in each of the past three games are more alarming. Rivers has been known as a clutch performer. Yet, if the ball is in his hands with the game on the line late, the entire stadium will wonder whether Rivers will crumble again.

Can Palmer find the right uniform? Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer’s first six quarters have been marred by bad decisions. Yes, Palmer had some moments in the first half against Denver, but he clearly is not comfortable yet. He has thrown three interceptions in each of his two games, and six interceptions in 56 attempts. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has thrown three interceptions in 265 attempts. San Diego safety Eric Weddle -- tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions -- is lurking, and Palmer must clean up his game in a hurry.

Can these teams establish the run? Because both quarterbacks have accuracy issues, the team that runs the best should have an edge. However, both teams are banged up at the position. Oakland running back Darren McFadden has been out since Week 7 with a foot injury. He probably will be out. San Diego’s Ryan Mathews missed last week’s game against Green Bay with a groin injury. He is expected to play. But it could come down to Michael Bush for Oakland and Mike Tolbert for San Diego in a pivotal matchup.

Will the Raiders use their weapons? A lot has been made of Oakland coach Hue Jackson's sparing use of receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Kevin Boss against Denver last week. Jackson said that neither player was being disciplined, and that they simply didn’t fit into the game plan. Jackson has been known for using a lot of different personnel combinations this season, but keeping these two receiving threats out of the mix was curious. It will be interesting to see whether Heyward-Bey (who has been the Raiders’ best receiver this season) and the pass-catching Boss are a bigger part of the game plan against the Chargers.