The Chiefs have been ahead of the Chargers since winning their Week 1 showdown, but must take them down again to open Week 15 in order to avoid being tied atop the AFC West.
With just three regular-season games remaining, this Thursday night clash represents the best matchup we’ll see all week. That’s truly saying something since there’s also action on Saturday in addition to a fully Sunday and a quality Monday night game between the Panthers and Saints.
Nothing will top L.A. at Kansas City in terms of importance, so hopefully the on-field product will rise up and match the magnitude of this game’s implications.
The difference between being able to coast through its final weeks of the season and ensure itself homefield advantage as long as Kansas City is alive into the conference championship game rides on being able to extend dominant streaks over the Chargers and at Arrowhead this season. The Chiefs have won nine straight against L.A. and are a perfect 6-0 on their home turf, winning four of the games by double-digits.
Baltimore was able to push the Chiefs for four quarters on Sunday, leading into the final minute of action and requiring Patrick Mahomes to convert on a pair of fourth downs. With 1:29 left, Kansas City’s quarterback rolled to his right and bought himself just enough time to throw across his body and connect with Tyreek Hill for 48 yards on a 4th-and-9 conversion that may go down as one of the most impactful plays this NFL season if the Chiefs are able to hold serve on Thursday night. Kansas City was able to tie the Ravens and ended up with a 27-24 overtime win.
They enter this showdown with L.A. with their third-string running back set to get a heavy workload after registering the game-tying score on a five-yard pass from Mahomes with 53 seconds left. Kareem Hunt was cut following video of his confrontation with a woman being released by TMZ on Nov. 30 and his backup, Spencer Ware, is doubtful due to a shoulder injury. That leaves Damien Williams as tonight’s likely starter with rookie Darrel Williams and veteran Charcandrick West also available for carries.
The Chargers also have a complicated situation at running back entering this one since Melvin Gordon is doing his best to return early from a knee injury that has kept him out of the lineup. My expectation is that he won’t look like his usual self if he does make it back out on to the field, but the magnitude of this game is so great that it’s understandable he wants to make every effort to get back out there since competent backup Austin Ekeler has already been ruled out after suffering a stinger. Rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome would be called upon if Gordon can’t go. Read up on this matchup’s other injury-related concerns below.
Given all the attrition at running back, everyone should expect that the arms of Mahomes and veteran Philip Rivers will ultimately decide matters, but there’s a possibility that we’ll see rain in the second half of this one. It’s also expected to be a windy night with gusts rising into the high teens, which makes Mahomes’ stronger arm a weapon. Snow that was originally expected to be part of the festivities is now unlikely to materialize, but temperatures should be in the high-30s.
Mahomes beat the Chargers in the season opener by throwing four touchdown passes, two of which went to Tyreek Hill, who also opened the scoring with a 91-yard punt return less than two minutes in. Rivers threw for three scores in a game where the Chargers came up well short despite 541 yards of offense, turning it over twice. In many ways, from losing the battle of time of possession by nearly 10 full minutes to getting lit up in yardage despite winning handily, the Chiefs showed us very early how they were going to do things this season. It would therefore not be surprising to see more chunk plays and home run balls from Kansas City in this rematch.
Only Week 5’s contest against the Jaguars saw the Chiefs favored by fewer points at home than oddsmakers have saddled them with for this one, which is in part a nod to L.A.’s excellence in opposing stadiums. Because they’re awaiting Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park that they’ll be sharing with the Rams to open the 2020 season to finish being built, the Chargers have been playing “home” games in Carson’s soccer stadium, the StubHub Center. The L.A. Galaxy consider that a great place to play. The Chargers, understandably, do not.
The joke can be made that the Chargers will be playing their 14th road game of the season here since support for them is so scarce in Carson that their own fans are often drowned out by those from the visiting team. Players have commented that not having a true homefield edge has toughened up and contributed to their success in true road games since they’ve only lost once, falling to the Rams 35-23 back on Sept. 23.
Indeed, the Bolts are perfect outside of L.A. See, it’s funny.
The Chargers’ most recent road conquest came in a 33-30 upset of the Steelers to open December, moving them to 3-1 SU and ATS as a road underdog. They struggled some in a 26-21 win over Cincinnati as a 16-point favorite but were clearly playing not to lose as opposed to putting their foot on the gas. That shouldn’t factor in here given that there’s a division on the line.
Ironically, winning would put the Chargers in line for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, which would at least mean they could sleep in their own beds and come out of the same locker room for a few rounds of the playoffs, so defeating the Chiefs would have value despite the team’s lack of a true edge at home. To win, they’ll need Rivers to play his best in a big game, which has certainly been an issue in the past. He’ll be facing a Kansas City defense that ranks last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (281.8) and 27th in points allowed (27.0), so it’s important that he takes advantage as long as Mother Nature allows him to. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams will try and wreak havoc against a secondary that gets back a familiar face at the perfect time.