Chargers (2017: 9-7) vs. Kansas City (2017: 10-6)
When Chargers have the ball
Philip Rivers has started 192 NFL games, which is 191 more than Patrick Mahomes, his Kansas City counterpart Sunday. So the Chargers have a decided edge in quarterback experience. But Rivers has struggled against the Chiefs and their defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton. He is 2-8 with 12 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a 76.3 passer rating against Sutton, according to the Kansas City Star. Last season, Rivers threw for only one touchdown while being picked off six times in two losses to Kansas City. Five of those interceptions, however, went to Marcus Peters (now with the Rams) and Terrance Mitchell (now with the Cleveland Browns). Rivers’ problems were notable in that only three NFL teams surrendered more yards through the air last season than the Chiefs did. Of course, one of those teams was the New England Patriots, who did so en route to making the Super Bowl. Running back Melvin Gordon is coming off a 1,105-yard season and was pretty good in both losses to K.C. in 2017, totaling 157 rushing and 91 receiving yards. The Chiefs figure to be without starting safety Eric Berry (heel) and probably will rely heavily on another safety, Ron Parker, who just rejoined the team a few days ago.
When Chiefs have the ball
Mahomes takes over after showing so much promise that Kansas City traded veteran starter Alex Smith in the offseason to make room for him. The son of a former big-league pitcher of the same name, Mahomes has people in the Greater K.C. area bubbling with anticipation. One member of the Kansas City Royals was photographed recently wearing a T-shirt that read “Patrick is Mahomey.” The Chiefs have a pair of returning 1,000-yard receivers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Hill burned the Chargers for a 64-yard touchdown last season, but Kelce, a three-time Pro Bowl tight end, had only 47 yards total in the two games. The Chargers will counter Mahomes and his toys with the “Jack Boys,” the nickname the secondary has given itself to announce its ball-hawking ways. Kareem Hunt rushed for 327 yards against the Chargers last year. Without the injured Joey Bosa (foot) and suspended Corey Liuget upfront, the Chargers probably will need a more concerted effort to limit Hunt to a more defensively respectable output.
When they kick
Kansas City has Harrison Butker, who had three games with five field goals last season and finished 38 of 42 overall. Butker made four of five from 50 yards or farther and all 28 of his extra-point attempts. The Chargers have Caleb Sturgis, a veteran trying to make everyone around here forget about the performance of the team’s kickers in 2017. Four players attempted field goals for the Chargers last season and that’s not including punter Drew Kaser who, because of injury, was forced into also placekicking in one game. Sturgis missed most of 2017 with Philadelphia because of a hip injury. He reported himself to be fit now and clinched the job with a strong showing over the final three weeks of the preseason.
The Chargers are favored and this feels like a game they should win. But they’ve also lost eight in a row to Kansas City, a pretty damning fact, even if so many players have turned over for both teams during the last four seasons. Either way, the score figures to be close, with K.C. gaining a slight edge because of Butker.