Chargers, Raiders eye shootout in final race for NFL playoffs

Los Angeles (AFP) – The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders take center stage on Sunday as the curtain comes down on the NFL's first ever 17-game regular season with the final three playoff berths up for grabs.


With 11 of the 14 postseason teams already determined, Saturday and Sunday's fixtures will focus largely on who ends up where in the playoff bracket.

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (13-3) have already assured themselves of top seeding in the NFC, but No.1 ranking is still on the table in the AFC.

The Tennessee Titans (11-5) remain in pole position to lock down that advantage, needing only a win on the road against the Houston Texans (4-12) to seal an all-important first round bye.

The sharp end of this weekend's action comes in the scramble for the final three spots in the playoffs.

In the AFC, the Chargers, Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers are all vying for two remaining playoff berths.

In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints are chasing the seventh and final available playoff spot.

While most teams still in the hunt require a combination of results to scramble into the postseason, the equation for the Chargers and Raiders is simple: whoever wins the battle between the AFC West rivals advances to the playoffs.

"It's like a playoff game, I guess because the winner is in and the loser is not," Chargers coach Brandon Staley said.

"These matchups down the stretch are all like this.

"There are going to be a lot of really good players in this game and that's why it's going to be great for the NFL to see two really good teams go at it."

The Chargers have ridden to the brink of the playoffs on the back of a dazzling season from quarterback Justin Herbert, who etched his way into franchise folklore last weekend by breaking the team's single-season touchdown record.

The 23-year-old added two more touchdowns in a win over the Denver Broncos to take his season total to 35 -- breaking Chargers icon Philip Rivers' record of 34 and moving clear of Dan Fouts' 1981 tally of 33.

"It's special because I was a Chargers fan growing up," Herbert said of breaking the record. "I knew about all of those guys. They're football legends.

"To be able to be even in the same conversation with them is a huge honor. But we're not done yet. We still have a big game coming up on Sunday."

Bell tolls for 'Big Ben'?

The Raiders could yet squeak into the playoffs with a loss, but would need both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh to lose.

Ben Roethlisberger is preparing to bid farewell to the NFL in what could be the final game of his career against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday
Ben Roethlisberger is preparing to bid farewell to the NFL in what could be the final game of his career against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Joe Sargent GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

The Colts (9-7) face the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) in their final game, needing only a win to progress.

The Steelers, meanwhile, could yet prolong Ben Roethlisberger's NFL career with a win over the Baltimore Ravens combined with an Indianapolis loss. Steelers icon Roethlisberger is widely expected to retire after the season.

For Roethlisberger, Sunday's game in Maryland could mark a neat bookend to his 18-year NFL career.

"The first game I ever played in the NFL was there," Roethlisberger said as he reflected on the fierce shared history of the AFC North divisional rivals.

"It was never a lot of fun to play those guys. I think it's a lot of respect, and it's going to be pretty cool."

In the NFC, meanwhile, all eyes will be on the San Francisco 49ers' trip to the Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers will reach the playoffs with a win over the already-qualified Rams, who are chasing a victory to secure the NFC West divisional title ahead of the Arizona Cardinals.

The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, will reach the playoffs with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a San Francisco loss.

While the Rams have the better record this season, the 49ers have held a hex over Los Angeles in recent years, recording five straight wins over Sean McVay's side.

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan says past results will count for little at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

"It's two teams that respect each other a lot," he said. "We go hard. We've won the turnover battle the majority of the times, but each game is kind of its own game ... it really has no bearing on what's happened in the past. It's all about these four quarters."