By Dave Thomas
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Chargers set their sights on AFC West rival Kansas City this Saturday evening in the nation’s heartland.
Tied for first place in the AFC West at 7-6 (Chiefs own the head-to-head tiebreaker), the Chargers will look to keep the momentum going that they started last month with a resounding thumping of Buffalo right before Thanksgiving.
Kansas City got off the snide last Sunday with a home win over the rival Oakland Raiders. The victory snapped a four-game skid that saw the Chiefs blow a comfortable lead in the division just a month ago.
So, what can fans expect this Saturday when two teams on a collision course take to the famed Arrowhead Stadium?
Chargers Have All The Momentum
In winning their last four contests, the Chargers have proven to be one of the hottest teams in the NFL of late. Even in the twilight of his career, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is putting up a top-notch season. Through 13 games, Rivers has thrown for 3,611 yards. He has 23 touchdowns to only seven interceptions to boot. When he is healthy, wide receiver Keenan Allen has proven to be one of the top targets in the NFL. In 13 games this season, Allen has 83 receptions for 1,143 yards and five scores. On the ground, running back Melvin Gordon is closing in on a 1,000-yard rushing season. Gordon has rushed for 853 yards on 229 carries and six touchdowns to date.
Yes, the offense has been clicking for the most part during this winning streak. Ironically, it was the winless Cleveland Browns (0-13) holding Los Angeles to its lowest scoring output of the four-game streak (19 points). In terms of defense, Los Angeles has been lights out in recent weeks.
During the last three wins (Dallas, Cleveland, Washington), the Chargers have held their opponents to a combined 29 points. Not bad when you’re a team making a push for your first playoff visit in four years. Leading the way has been Jahleel Addae (83 total tackles), with Joey Bosa causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks in tallying 11.5 sacks. Fellow defensive end Melvin Ingram has recorded nine sacks to date.
Chiefs Got Their Groove Back
With the world seemingly collapsing in Kansas City for the last month or so, fans were on edge as to whether head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs were in for an epic collapse. In a 26-15 win over Oakland at home last weekend, Kansas City appeared to get some or most of its mojo back.
To date, veteran QB Alex Smith has numbers that mirror those of his counterpart in Los Angeles. Smith has thrown for 3,507 yards, with 23 touchdowns and only five INT’s. For Smith, handing the ball off to running back Kareem Hunt has been a pleasant experience for the most part. Hunt has 1,046 yards rushing on 218 carries and five scores. Through the air, Smith has focused primarily on the duo of tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, respectively. Both Kelce (945 receiving yards, seven TD’s) and Hill (986 receiving yards, six touchdowns) will likely figure in this Saturday’s outcome.
On defense, the Chiefs have turned to Daniel Sorensen (80 total tackles) and Justin Houston (9.5 sacks) to lead the charge.
So, with two teams fighting to win an AFC West Division title over these last three games, expect the unexpected come Saturday evening. Although offensive fireworks are certainly a possibility, this game could come down to which team manages the least amount of key turnovers. It very well could be a contest where the defenses impose their respective wills on their opponent.
Kansas City, which has won two of the last seven division crowns (Denver won five straight from 2011-15), is a 1.5-point underdog as of midweek.