The boost the Oakland Raiders are looking for could be under center against the Los Angeles Chargers at home on Sunday.
Quarterback Derek Carr is expected to return from a back fracture as Oakland (2-3) looks to snap a three-game skid against the Chargers (1-4).
"We think he's ready to go," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "We'll see how practice goes and monitor as we go through the week, but I think things are encouraging."
Not much has gone the Raiders' way of late. Since Carr went down two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, Oakland lost that game and the following one to the Baltimore Ravens.
Once a trendy pick for the Super Bowl, the Raiders are suddenly three games behind the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. Oakland also trails the Broncos (3-1) as well in what many consider the NFL's toughest division.
"I know for us, it's a division game, which makes it big already," Del Rio said. "For me, it's about preparing, coming out there and playing good football and that is what want to be about, is good football."
The Chargers have produced little of that, even in their win over the New York Giants on Sunday. It was an uneven performance from a team that is struggling to find its feet under new coach Anthony Lynn and in a new city.
"It was a game where at times we didn't really play all that well again and quickly once the dust settles you are still 1-4 and you have a heck of a hill to climb," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "But I think we are still very hungry and the focus is Oakland -- no one is going to relax."
The Raiders will second that, knowing they're not in position to give anymore ground in the division.
"We need it pretty bad," Del Rio said. "If there's a desperation meter, we want it pretty bad."
If the Raiders get Carr back, that's a plus. If not, the more mobile but less-accurate EJ Manuel will get his second straight start.
"We'll see," Carr said about being available on Sunday. "I was ready to go last week in my head. I think that's how I always think."
While idle, Carr was able to contemplate why the Raiders are struggling on offense.
"When you watch it from the sidelines, it is really hard," Carr said. "To sit here and see certain looks and see thing going on with all those kind of things … we just have to be more efficient."
Trying to protect Carr from the Chargers' potent pass-rushing tandem of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa is a huge task. The pair has a combined 12 sacks, tops among two NFL teammates.
"Both are big challenges," Del Rio said. "Different styles. Sometimes they pair them together and they work together in combinations; they're both very good in what they do. To me, they're two guys you need to know about."
The Raiders know they're good, but they have had a hard time showing it on a consistent basis. Donald Penn knows why.
"We're so uptight," he said. "We expected to have a different start these first five games. I think we need to take a deep breath and relax. We're so on edge."
The Chargers hope they can keep them there with an offense that has weapons. Rivers' aim hasn't always been true, but Keenan Allen is fourth in the league with 401 receiving yards and his 235 on third down is an NFL high.
Melvin Gordon has proved to be productive out of the backfield, as his three scoring receptions pace all running backs.
The Raiders have won four straight in the series, including sweeping last year's games, winning by three points on both occasions.
The Chargers are making their first visit since 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers. In the AFL's opening season, the Raiders got thumped by the Chargers 47-17.
Both teams have taken their lumps of late.
"I'm sure their expectations haven't changed because there is a lot of football left," Rivers said of the Raiders. "Are we disappointed in our start? Yes. Are they disappointed they have lost a couple in a row? Yes.
"But I don't think the expectations have changed for either of us."
With another win, the Chargers just might keep their slim hopes of a positive season alive.
"It's the boring old answer to just win this week and not look so much at the 1-4," Rivers said. "Just find a way to win our second in a row."
With another win for the Raiders, they snap their losing funk and get a chance to gain momentum for another AFC battle against the Chiefs on Thursday night.
With another loss, the Raiders tumble into last place, sharing the space with the Chargers.