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NFL begins Thursday night package with AFC West leaders Raiders, Chargers
Two reeling teams that somehow remain atop their division open the NFL's Thursday night package in Oakland. Picking a winner could come down to who throws more picks: Philip Rivers of the Chargers or Carson Palmer of the Raiders.
San Diego has lost three straight, allowing a solid grip on the slippery division to disappear. Now, the Chargers are tied with Oakland, loser of two straight, and Kansas City at 4-4.
Certainly the league was hoping for some sort of shootout as it begins its NFL Network telecasts, and it might get one. If the air is filled with footballs, look for defenders to be catching some of them.
Rivers, having the worst season of his eight-year career, ranks 20th in passer rating, has thrown a league-high 14 interceptions and is making poor decisions. Last Sunday, two of his passes were returned for touchdowns and a third nearly was.
He also helped the Chargers keep it close in a 45-38 loss to unbeaten Green Bay.
"We scored 38 points. That in itself is good," Rivers said. "Obviously, you can't turn the ball over. That was the difference in the game, turning it over. That's something I need to keep working on and do a better job of. We gave ourselves a chance and never quit. But there's no consolation when you lose."
Oakland, a 7-point underdog, has lost divisional games to Kansas City and Denver, bringing both of those clubs back into the AFC West race. As expected, new quarterback Carson Palmer looked rusty (or worse) in the six quarters he's played since ending his self-imposed retirement and being traded by Cincinnati to the Raiders.
Palmer has thrown six interceptions and three touchdowns and has an ugly 53.9 rating.
"You go out and win on Thursday night and it's a great feeling again," Palmer said. "You have a chance to be on top of the division, but you have a chance to get a win and feel good about your team and just keep trucking through the season. I'm extremely excited about what we can be. I think the future is bright."
San Diego's immediate future is brighter.
Detroit (plus 3) at Chicago
Lions come off bye, Bears off nice Monday night showing. Both are wild-card threats.
BEST BET: BEARS, 24-23
St. Louis (plus 2 ) at Cleveland
Hard to favor Browns over anyone, and Rams are beginning to show moxie.
UPSET SPECIAL: RAMS, 17-10
Buffalo (plus 5 ) at Dallas
Bills are pretty good at fixing woes after a loss and match up well against inconsistent Cowboys.
Pittsburgh (minus 3) at Cincinnati
Bengals can stamp themselves as true contender with win here. We don't believe quite yet.
New Orleans (pick-em) at Atlanta
Statement win for Falcons in NFC South race.
New York Giants (plus 3 ) at San Francisco
Renewal of a classic rivalry of the 1980s and early '90s. Winner has inside track for playoff bye.
New England (plus 1 ) at New York Jets
The matchups no longer work for the Patriots. Jets will get physical from outset.
Minnesota (plus 13 ) at Green Bay, Monday night
No Brett Favre drama this time. Or any drama.
Denver (plus 3) at Kansas City
What happened to all that Chiefs momentum? They can recapture it here.
Jacksonville (minus 3) at Indianapolis
Might be Colts' best opportunity for a win. Do we have the guts to make that pick?
Houston (minus 3) at Tampa Bay
Texans can really show they are new and improved with big road win.
Tennessee (plus 3) at Carolina
Titans regressing, starting to look like rebuilding team, exactly what Panthers are.
Washington (plus 3 ) at Miami
A winning streak for the Dolphins? Why not?
Baltimore (minus 7) at Seattle
Even with the expected emotional letdown after win over Steelers, Ravens have too much for Seahawks.
Arizona (OFF) at Philadelphia
Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb's injury erases any line. Eagles are finished if they fall.
Against spread: 7-6 (overall 71-50-3); straight up 8-6 (overall 88-42).
Best Bet: 2-7 against spread, 4-5 straight up.
Upset Special: 7-2 against spread, 5-4 straight up.