It’s another home game for the Chiefs that features playoff implications. Kansas City is sitting in a good spot though. With a big win last week, and losses suffered by the Patriots, Texans and Steelers, the Chiefs currently hold a two-game lead for home-field advantage in the AFC. They would also clinch another AFC West with a win in this Thursday Night contest. Also, if they win and the Steelers were to beat the Patriots in Pittsburgh, the Chiefs would clinch the number one seed with two games to play.
On the flip side, the Chargers have had one of their hottest seasons in a long time, with quarterback Philip Rivers playing at his highest level. The Chargers have been a game back of the Chiefs for most of the season, and a win for them in this game would really make things interesting. If the Chargers somehow win the division, the Chiefs would then drop to the fifth seed and have to try to get to the Super Bowl away from Arrowhead Stadium. LA also has some built-in frustration heading into this game, as they have lost nine straight games to the Chiefs in a number of different ways.
Let’s take a look at the headlines for Thursday’s Chiefs-Chargers game.
Who’s In/Who’s Out
The injury bug has hung around these two teams for parts of the season. Both teams will be impacted by the health of some of their stars.
First, the Chargers may be without their two top running backs in this game. One who will for sure be out is Austin Ekeler, who is nursing a concussion and a neck injury. Then, you have ultra-talented Melvin Gordon. Gordon is officially a game-time decision heading into Thursday. He has said he feels ready to play, but we’ll officially see what happens tomorrow. Gordon has missed the last two games with a knee injury. If they’re both out, that will be more than huge for the Chiefs defense. Gordon and Ekeler combined for 103 rushing yards, 189 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs in the first matchup earlier this season. Defensively, both Brandon Mebane and Trevor Williams are likely out.
Kansas City will for sure be without Sammy Watkins once again. No telling how much newly signed Kelvin Benjamin sees the field this week either. Spencer Ware and Cam Erving are doubtful, but there’s a shot both could still play. Tyreek Hill is expected to play, despite finishing last Sunday’s game on an essentially one leg. Most importantly, Eric Berry is likely to make his season debut. Expectations for Berry shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, but if he adds something to this defense for the playoffs, then it’s a positive. Just seeing Berry in a uniform and a helmet for the first time since the season opener in 2017 will be awesome enough.
During the Chargers nine-game losing streak to Kansas City, they have made mistakes that are all the more costly because most of these games are so close. For example, the Chargers dropped plenty of passes against the Chiefs back in Week 1. Most were perfectly placed by Rivers and a lot of those opportunities could have gone for scores due to blown coverage.
In recent Chiefs-Chargers history, Rivers has had plenty of interceptions against the Andy Reid led Chiefs. Since 2013, Rivers has thrown an interception in nine of eleven games against the Chiefs. A good handful of those include games where Rivers has been stifled by the Chiefs for two or three interceptions.
Penalties have a big problem for the Chiefs this season. Kansas City has still been called for the most penalties so far this season, despite doing better in that department against the Ravens. The Chargers are more in the middle of the pack this season. But, LA has struggled to stay disciplined against the Chiefs. Since 2013, they have been called for more penalties in head to head matchups against Kansas City in seven of eleven games. Kansas City has played more clean, and that’s why they have more success against the division recently than the Chargers.
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Survival of the Fittest
We know how much resiliency the Chiefs have shown this season, but can we say the same about the Chargers? LA actually has been in some tougher situations than you would think as a 10-3 team. Back in Week 4, they had to scratch and claw to barely escape a San Francisco team, who at the time had C.J. Beathard as their starting quarterback. In London, the Chargers were struggling to consistently move the ball against Tennessee. Then, they faced a sixteen point deficit in Pittsburgh. Last week, they didn’t fare great against a Bengals team riddled of injuries. But in the end, no matter how well they played overall, they were able to win all of these games. These type of games are ones where the Chargers would have lost just last season. Los Angeles has finally found some confidence this season, and have a chance to really ruin the Chiefs chances for the division title in this game.
Matchup to Watch: Chargers Receiving Core vs Chiefs Secondary
The Chiefs enter this week last in pass defense. Getting certain guys back has helped, but the Chiefs have been caught the most in crossing routes. That is precisely the type of routes the Chargers excel on. With the speed and ability the Chargers receivers have to make any type of catch in traffic, they are one of the most talented receiving cores in the league. Rivers is not afraid to throw it deep either. The Chiefs have done a better job lately of not being too handsy. If the Chargers run pivot routes and pick routes, the Chiefs must stay conscientious and not grab for receivers. That’s what hurt them with countless penalties against the Rams.
Weather the Storm
Right now, the forecast for Kansas City on Thursday night calls for chances of rain and high winds in the cold. How this effects both teams will be another thing to watch. When looking at the two quarterbacks, it seems like this type of weather fits better for Patrick Mahomes. With his arm strength and ability to get the pass out to receivers quick, Mahomes may not even be affected by it. On the other hand, Rivers shotput-like throwing motion somehow seems to work perfectly in good weather. But in bad weather, his passes are probably more likely to float and have a chance to be picked off.
Since 2017, the Chargers have turned the ball over 25 times. That’s the lowest for any NFL team in that time span. Of those 25, nearly half of them (9) have come against the Chiefs in the last three games.
Travis Kelce has been a big part of the Chiefs offense the last few years. But during the Chiefs nine-game win streak against the Chargers, Kelce has never caught a touchdown pass. Plus, he’s been held to under 50 receiving yards in seven of those nine.
Thank you for reading this Chiefs-Chargers preview. Before you enjoy not only this game but the entire week 15 slate, be sure to check out Full Press Coverage for more great content.