8:15 PM EST, Prime Video – Line: Chiefs -4.5, Over/Under: 54.5
After a thoroughly entertaining opening weekend ripe with twists and turns, Week Two kicks off with heralded division rivals as the Kansas City Chiefs host the Los Angeles Chargers in a key early AFC West matchup from GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. After missing out on the playoffs (for the third consecutive season) in heartbreaking fashion, the Chargers (1-0, T-1st in AFC West) set about addressing their remaining weaknesses in the offseason, with a heavy emphasis placed upon bolstering the defense. Now in his second year as Head Coach, Brandon Staley appears to have assembled the requisite personnel necessary to deploy his strategies, which was something that he simply couldn’t do a year ago. Needless to say, Los Angeles was VERY underwhelming on this side of the football, ranking twenty-ninth in points allowed (27.0) and twenty-third in total defense (360.1), all the while getting repeatedly battered against the run, finishing thirtieth in yards (138.9), twenty-eighth in yards per carry (4.6), and twenty-ninth in touchdowns permitted (22). And it’s with that said, that Staley and (General Manager) Tom Telesco opened up the checkbook and added a number of quality players that possess the desired traits to flourish in the City of Angels. First and foremost, The Lightning Bolts broke the bank for (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) J.C. Jackson, who has logged more interceptions (25) than any player in the NFL since 2018. Though he’s expected to miss the first few games of the season with an ankle injury, the undrafted Defensive Back is expected to thrive behind what appears to be an elite pass-rush. And speaking of the rush, (former Defensive Player of the Year) Khalil Mack returns to the division after a four-year stay in the Windy City, teaming with fellow Pro-Bowler Joey Bosa to terrorize opposing Quarterbacks. Together, the duo has accounted for a staggering 138.5 sacks since 2014, and if their collective performance in the club’s 24-19 victory over the Raiders last weekend was any indication, then the future is indeed bright for this unit. After relinquishing a 14-play, 70-yard drive culminating in a field goal, the Chargers effectively squatted on their opponent in the first half, relegating them to a mere twenty-three yards of total offense by halftime, and in the second half snared a pair of interceptions as Mack and Bosa turned up the heat on the Quarterback. In the end, Staley’s troops yielded just 320 total yards, including a scant sixty-four against the run, while opposing passer, Derek Carr was sacked SIX times for a loss of thirty-nine yards and hit on nine occasions, leading to three picks. Mack and Bosa combined for 4.5 sacks, six hits, and a pair of forced fumbles, with the ex-Raider taking down his former teammate three times on the afternoon.
Of course, Los Angeles was able to add these defensive reinforcements in large part because they aren’t paying their Quarterback, Justin Herbert, anything close to market value. We’ve seen how teams are able to evolve into championship contenders with young Quarterbacks playing on their rookie contracts, and these Bolts appear to be the latest example of that growing trend. Drafted sixth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, Herbert has ascended to the realms of the league’s elite in a short period of time, throwing for over 4,000 yards and thirty touchdowns in each of his first two seasons with the Chargers. Measuring in at 6′-6″ and 237 pounds, while owning a rocket launcher for an arm and surprising mobility for someone his size, there may not be a better passer from the pocket, as the 24-year-old has shown the ability to hit virtually every target anywhere on the field. Herbert met little resistance against Las Vegas’ revamped defense last Sunday, completing 26-of-34 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns, spreading the football to nine different targets, including (veteran Receiver) Keenan Allen (four receptions for 66 yards) and (unheralded journeyman) DeAndre Carter (three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown), while (incoming Tight End) Gerald Everett added three receptions for fifty-four yards and a score of his own. Looking ahead to tonight’s matchup, Allen may be a long shot to participate after leaving the field of play with a strained hamstring, though apart from that, this team is largely healthy for their annual showdown at Arrowhead, which is a venue that they’ve left victorious in each of their last two visits. In last year’s meeting, Staley’s charges opened eyes with a 30-24 win in which they established themselves as a worthy opponent early in the affair; the visitors forced a turnover on each of Kansas City’s first three possessions, before firmly taking control with back-to-back touchdown drives. Though the Chiefs wrestled back momentum in the second half, the Bolts’ defense would strike again with a late interception of Patrick Mahomes (much more on him shortly) inside of two minutes, setting up Herbert to drive his side downfield for the go-ahead strike to Mike Williams. A middling 5-5 straight up in their last ten visits to Arrowhead, the Chargers are 7-3 against the spread in those matchups and have handled themselves well against better competition; Herbert & Co were 5-4 straight up against playoff teams last season, though 4-4 against opponents below .500. Their maturity in playing to the level of their competition will be a major theme moving forward…
Meanwhile, after competing in four consecutive AFC Championship Games, there were growing fears of the Chiefs (1-0, T-1st in AFC West) taking a step backward in 2022, thanks to an exodus of talent in free agency. Granted, the moment that the franchise inked (All-Pro Quarterback) Patrick Mahomes to that mammoth ten-year, $450 million contract extension a few years ago, it was only a matter of time that they would have to part ways with some of their more expensive players, leading to the departures of (Pro-Bowl Safety) Tyrann Mathieu, (Receivers) Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, along with (emerging Cornerback) Chavarius Ward among others. However, by far and away the most significant departure was that of (All-Pro Wideout) Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Dolphins in exchange for a cache of draft picks (first, second, and fourth round picks in 2022, and another fourth in 2023). In six years with Kansas City, the six-time Pro-Bowler hauled in 479 receptions for 6,630 yards and fifty-six touchdowns, all the while serving as the premier vertical threat in the NFL, with his blazing speed keeping Defensive Coordinators up at night. (Head Coach) Andy Reid and (General Manager) Brett Veach responded by bringing in a slew of new pass-catchers, signing both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency, while drafting Skyy Moore in the second round of last April’s NFL Draft. How potent would the passing attack be without Hill dragging coverage downfield? What kind of effect would his departure have on Mahomes? These were legitimate questions that needed to be answered for a team that was looking to maintain its iron grip on not only the AFC West, which they’ve six straight times, but the conference as a whole to boot. So, how did Mahomes & Co perform in their first contest of the post-Cheetah Era, you ask? Well, if their 44-21 evisceration of the Cardinals was any indication, this could very well be a case of the more that things change, the more they stay the same.
This one was as one-sided as they come, folks, as the visiting Chiefs repeatedly marched downfield for touchdowns on each of their first three drives of the afternoon, with a pair of 11-play possessions bookending a seven-play, 86-yard drive. Late in the third quarter, Kansas City had grown their lead to 37-7 before Reid visibly took his foot off the gas allowing Arizona to make the final outcome look a bit more respectable. By the end of the affair, his troops amassed a whopping 488 total yards on thirty-three first downs, rushing for a solid 128 yards on twenty-seven carries, while Mahomes completed 30-of-39 attempts for 360 yards and FIVE touchdowns. No Tyreek? No problem, as nine different players caught a pass from the 2018 MVP, chief among them (pun intended) Travis Kelce with eight receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown, while Smith-Schuster added six catches for seventy-nine yards and Valdes-Scantling reeled in four balls for forty-four yards of his own. The Backfield was well-represented in this one too, as (Rookie Tailback) Isiah Pacheco led the way with sixty-two yards and a score on twelve carries, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire compiled seventy-four yards from scrimmage and a pair of receiving touchdowns. Though it’s only one game, this offense doesn’t appear to have lost much of its explosivity at all, for all but two of their six touchdown drives consisted of fewer than ten plays, including their fourth of the day which saw them travel seventy-five yards in just four snaps, with Mahomes hitting Kelce and Moore for passes of thirty-five and thirty yards respectively. On the opposite side of the football, (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo had to be impressed with how his unit took it to the hosts, containing Kyler Murray for just 193 passing yards and another twenty-nine rushing, with the bulk of that production coming after the visiting side established that sizable lead. Arizona could muster only 282 yards of total offense, with 160 of it coming in the last eighteen minutes of the contest. Murray was sacked thrice and hit on six occasions, with the relentless defensive front of Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Carlos Dunlap, and (Rookie) George Karlaftis all wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage. Despite dropping each of their last two meetings with the Chargers at Arrowhead, the Chiefs are 7-3 in their last ten matchups straight-up against Los Angeles, and 6-4 against the spread. Furthermore, they are 8-2 straight when favored against the Bolts over their last ten encounters, though 5-5 against the spread. Since arriving in Kansas City back in 2013, Reid is both 6-4 straight up and against the spread on Thursday nights, including 1-1 against the Chargers, whom his troops bested in a spirited 34-28 overtime affair at SoFi Stadium last December. Trailing 28-21 just before the two-minute warning, Mahomes engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive culminating with a seven-yard touchdown to Kelce to force overtime, before traveling that same distance in just five plays, hooking up with his Tight End once more for the 34-yard walk-off score.