San Diego Chargers visit Oakland Raiders in renewal of AFC West rivalry

The Oakland Raiders made two key changes at the top in an attempt to end a 10-season playoff drought.

The San Diego Chargers hope that sticking with their beleaguered management will pay off this year.

After finishing with identical records in 2011, these AFC West rivals will begin this season Monday night where last year's ended - in Oakland.

Mark Davis took over as Raiders owner in October following the passing of his father, Al Davis, who was also the franchise's longtime general manager. Davis' son hired Reggie McKenzie, formerly with Green Bay, as his GM shortly after last season, then McKenzie fired coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

"We respect what Mr. Davis was able to do here, the brand he created with this organization," said Allen, who at 39 is the league's youngest head coach. "We're going to do it our way. That's the only way we know how to do it. Reggie and I have a plan, and we hope to have success doing it that way."

One of Oakland's first steps in that plan is to bounce back from a miserable end to 2011. The Raiders were 7-4 and leading the AFC West before dropping four of their final five games to finish 8-8 for the second straight year.

They could have won the division at home in the season finale but lost 38-26 to the Chargers.

Oakland hasn't posted a winning record or made the playoffs since reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. Having quarterback Carson Palmer for a full season could help, as could a healthier Darren McFadden.

Palmer, who refused to play for Cincinnati after the 2010 season, was acquired Oct. 23 and threw for 2,753 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 games.

After rushing for more than 1,100 yards the previous season, McFadden was limited to seven games in 2011 because of a foot injury. He hasn't played in all 16 games in any of his four NFL campaigns.

The Raiders also are seeking to shore up a defense that became the sixth since the 1970 merger to give up at least 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in one season.

The Chargers, meanwhile, will have a new defensive coordinator, John Pagano, as they try to bounce back from an 8-8 finish. The team also used its first three draft picks on defensive players, including outside linebacker Melvin Ingram in the first round.

San Diego hopes those additions help it reach the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Despite those lackluster campaigns and a disappointing playoff performance in 2009, the Chargers chose to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.

Wins in four of the final five games might have helped Turner and Smith hold on to their jobs. San Diego finished a win shy of overtaking Denver for the division title after a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season wounded their hopes for a fifth crown in six years.

To have a better campaign, the Chargers could use an improved performance from Philip Rivers. The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback topped 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season in 2011 but also had a career-high 20 interceptions.

One of Rivers' top targets, Vincent Jackson, left for Tampa Bay, so San Diego will try to replace him with Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. Rivers' other favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates, is back for his 10th season with the Chargers.

"Personally, I want to throw completions, just throw completions," Rivers said. "With the guys we've added, the guys we already have here, get them the ball. If they have the ball in their hands, then good things are going to happen."

San Diego is hoping to get the ball in the hands of Ryan Mathews, but the third-year running back is still recovering from a broken collarbone and his status is uncertain.

"I'm very hopeful. I really am," said Mathews, who had a career-high 1,091 yards last season. "I'm taking it day by day and hope everything goes as planned and I'm there Monday night."

While Mathews could return, left tackle Jared Gaither appears a little more doubtful. Gaither hasn't practiced since July 28 and wants to be fully healed before coming back.

"If you ask Philip and the rest of my teammates, they want me at my best," Gaither said. "That's what I'm here to give everyone. Nothing but my best."

San Diego has won seven of its last eight in Oakland.

Rivers threw for three TDs in the last meeting as the Chargers overcame Palmer's 417 yards, second-most of his career behind a 440-yard effort against San Diego in 2006 while with Cincinnati.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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