The Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs franchises were charter members of the American Football League, with the newly minted L.A. team leaving for San Diego after one season.
That was way back in 1960.
This season’s opener between those AFC West rivals feels roughly that long ago.
Ah, those days of innocence, when we didn’t know how good Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes would be and the Chargers were just a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons. The Chiefs won that day at StubHub Center, 38-28, but few people were circling their Week 15 rematch on the calendar as a must-see matchup.
But it is. In a game that’s short on preparation time and long on consequences, the Chargers (10-3) will play at Kansas City (11-2) on Thursday night in a showdown of two of the NFL’s hottest teams, the only AFC clubs with double-digit victories. The Chargers have won three in a row, the longest winning streak in the conference, and are 5-1 on the road. The Chiefs secured at least a spot in the playoffs with Sunday’s win, and the last time they played in prime time, they gave us maybe the best game of the year, a 54-51 shootout with the Rams.
The Chiefs are 6-0 at Arrowhead Stadium and would still own the division tiebreaker over the Chargers with a loss Thursday, by virtue of a better divisional record. Kansas City’s final two games are at Seattle, and home against Oakland. The Chargers finish at home against Baltimore, and at Denver.
In pursuit of home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Chiefs also got some breathing room Sunday thanks to losses by every other division leader in the conference — New England, Pittsburgh and Houston.
Three days after that big game at Kansas City, the Rams will look to get back on track against Philadelphia after they were offensively aimless and arrhythmic in a 15-6 loss at Chicago. A year ago, the Eagles pulled off a December victory at the Coliseum and, despite losing Most Valuable Player favorite Carson Wentz to a knee injury, began their improbable march to their first Lombardi Trophy with Nick Foles at quarterback.
(Foles, by the way, played quarterback for three of the four teams in the aforementioned games: Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.)
As it stands, the four starting quarterbacks in this week’s games involving L.A. teams were all top-10 draft picks: the Rams’ Jared Goff (first), Wentz (second), the Chargers’ Philip Rivers (fourth), and Mahomes (10th).
This season, Mahomes is the league’s leading MVP candidate and is atop the passing charts with a symmetrical 4,300 yards and 43 touchdowns. He’s coming off a 377-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 27-24 overtime victory against Baltimore that might have been his most impressive outing of the season, even though his numbers weren’t as gaudy as in other games. The Ravens entered with the league’s No. 1 defense, and Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill was hobbled by a heel injury (yet still made a 48-yard reception on fourth-and-nine late in the fourth quarter).
Mahomes has made good on the prescient observation Rivers made about him after the opener: “He has a chance to be a really, really awesome player. He has some arm talent. I’d like to borrow his arm every now and then. Some of those throws, he can really throw it. And shoot, he’s really accurate.”
And so was Rivers with that comment. Maybe he had an inkling back then how big Thursday night’s game would be.
In losing to the Bears, the Rams also surrendered the inside track to New Orleans for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Having lost to the Saints this season, the Rams also would lose the tiebreaker if the teams finish with the same record.
That’s a big deal because the Saints are simply a better team when playing in the Superdome than they are on the road.
Two of New Orleans’ final three games are against NFC South rival Carolina, starting Monday night in Charlotte. The 6-7 Panthers, losers of five in a row, aren’t the same scrappy team they typically are, but it’s hard to sweep a division opponent, particularly with games in such close succession.
With Sunday’s 28-14 win over Tampa Bay, the Saints assured themselves of back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history.
The reshaping of the Oakland Raiders under coach Jon Gruden continues, as the team has decided to part ways with general manager Reggie McKenzie after nearly seven seasons.
According to an NFL Media report, McKenzie informed scouts at a Monday meeting that he had been fired. He reportedly was given the option to stay through the end of the season but is not expected to do so.