The final Thursday night game of the season, might be the most important game of the season in the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers are the only two teams in the AFC that have 10 or more wins at this point in the season. So the winner of this game will have the inside track on home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs enter the game fresh off beating the Baltimore Ravens at home in what could be a divisional round playoff game. They overcame 2 missed field goals and a heel injury to star receiver Tyreek Hill to survive at home.
The Chargers enter the game after holding on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals at home by two points. After Joe Mixon scored a touchdown with less than two minutes to go in the game, the defense stopped the Bengals on the game-tying two point conversion. With the potential of Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon III returning to the lineup, the Chargers could have enough to keep the Chiefs from clinching the AFC West Division title. So let’s take a look at what to watch for as both teams take the field on Thursday night.
Whoever is running the ball for the Chiefs needs to get it going early
The question isn’t can Kansas City run the ball it’s who will be carrying the ball? With Spencer Ware doubtful for the game, the running game falls on Damien Williams to lead the load. Now he had a solid game against the Ravens last week scoring two touchdowns after Ware left the game due to injury. Damien has to get it going early for the Chiefs to be effective. The Chargers have allowed two games of less than 75 yards rushing in their last three games played. Now they gave up over 140 last week to the Bengals, but Williams isn’t Mixon. Williams only had 14 yards rushing on his eight carries on Sunday and the Chargers are at top-12 team against the run this season. If he can get the Chiefs running game going, it could be a long night for Los Angeles especially with dealing with Patrick Mahomes and the passing attack.
Speaking of quick starts, Mahomes is dangerous in the opening quarter
Even though I just spoke on how the running game needs to have a good start, the passing game in the 1st quarter has been a problem for the Chargers all season. They allow a quarterback rating of over 104 in the opening 15 minutes of play, Mahomes’s rating is 114.6 in first quarter. He’s only thrown one interception and completes over 66 percent of his passes as his passing sets the tone for the game for Kansas City. He needs to get Travis Kelce involved early. In the game in week one, Kelce was held to a season-low one catch for six yards and the NFL’s best tight end (Sorry Gronk) needs to get himself going early.
If Kelce gets involved early, don’t think that Pat won’t go deep to Hill early. In their earlier matchup, Hill caught seven passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs win. Hill is explosive in the open field and if he gets just a little bit of separation, Mahomes won’t miss him on the deeper routes. Expect super-rookie Derwin James to be more in pass coverage on Thursday night. To help with Hill going over the top of the defense.
The Chargers have to hope that Gordon III can play.
When Gordon suffered his is grade-two MCL sprain a few weeks ago, the injury was expected to be a two to four week injury and he should be ready for the playoffs. Now in a game that the Chargers need in order to potentially get a first round bye in the playoffs, Gordon might be looking to get back into the lineup earlier than expected. Los Angeles will be without Austin Ekeler out with a neck injury, so if one of the NFL’s best running back can’t go, Justin Jackson would have to carry the load.
Nothing against Jackson, but when you can have your Pro Bowl running back ready to go, you have to let him go. But expect Jackson to play a role, especially in passing situations where Ekeler excelled.
The teams first game this season was the Hill show as the nation got to see Mahomes for the first time. Now that we are 13 games into the season and Mahomes is the leader in the clubhouse for MVP, this game will be the real test to see if he’s the MVP. The difference now is that in this game Kansas City doesn’t have Kareem Hunt in the backfield and that’s a huge difference. Expect the Chargers to key on the run and force Patrick to throw on every down. The Chargers are one of the few teams that can go for point for point with the Chiefs because of Phillip Rivers (funny how I just went over 800 words without mentioning him at all) and Keenan Allen.
I would pick the Chargers if Gordon was 100 percent because if the Chargers could get a lead they could rely on him to eat up clock. But since he is not and the game is on the road, it changes my pick. Expect both quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards, but the young quarterback beats the veteran at home. Kelce will be the star on Thursday night, expect him to carry the Chiefs and whoever has him in their fantasy football playoffs. I’m expecting at least nine catches and 140 yards and at least a touchdown.
Chiefs 37 Chargers 31
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