8:20 PM ET, NBC – Line: Chiefs -7, Over/Under: 50
Week Eleven reaches its penultimate contest with what could very well be a shootout in the City of Angels, as the Kansas City Chiefs look to maintain their stranglehold on the AFC West, against a Los Angeles Chargers side who is simply looking to remain in striking distance. We’ve said it over and over again, but it appears that the more that things change for the Chiefs (7-2, 1st in AFC West), the more they stay the same, as they have seen their lead within the division swell to two games at the midway point of the campaign, with an opportunity to really put things on ice with a victory tonight. It may sound much ado about nothing now, but back in the offseason it appeared that the AFC West could very well be the most competitive division in recent memory, what with the other three teams making a litany of moves to improve themselves, while there appeared to be blood in the water in Kansas City, who traded away (All-Pro Receiver) Tyreek Hill for a bounty of draft picks. Eleven weeks into the season, and it appears that none of that mattered on bit, as (Head Coach) Andy Reid’s charges are marching to what would be their SEVENTH consecutive division crown, taking the polar opposite route that they traveled last season; if you recall, the Chiefs got off to a perplexing 3-4 start in 2021 thanks to a cavalcade of mistakes and a porous defense, only to right the ship to win nine of their last ten games en route to making a fourth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. So, what in the name of Len Dawson is going on at Arrowhead, you ask? Well, the absence of Hill hasn’t diminished this high-powered attack in the slightest, with Patrick Mahomes & Co leading the NFL in points scored (30.0), first downs (226), passing yards (326.2), and passing touchdowns (25). No Tyreek, no problem for Mahomes (pictured), with the perennial All-Pro Quarterback performing at near 2018 MVP levels; the 27-year-old leads the league in both passing yards (2,936) and scores (25), while averaging more yards per attempt (8.0) and completion (12.0) without Hill, which is a telltale sign of his grasp of Reid’s offense. The key is that he’s been distributing the football more judiciously than at any point of his stellar career, with six different players hauling seventeen or more receptions through nine games, two of which are Running Backs, which tells us that he’s simply throwing to whomever is open. Sure, Travis Kelce is an ALL-WORLD Tight End who is leading the team in catches (63) receiving yards (740), and touchdowns (8) by a country mile, but the newcomers have done their part too, with (veteran Wideouts) JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling combining for seventy-two receptions, 1,056 yards, and three scores. Hell, even Kadarious Toney, whom the club acquired at the Trade Deadline, recently made an impact with four catches for fifty-seven yards and his first career touchdown in last weekend’s 27-17 victory over the Jaguars (more on that shortly). Indeed, in a conference littered with good football teams, it’s unsurprising that the Chiefs have separated themselves from the rest, though it will be interesting to see if their defense can hold up; Kansas City hasn’t been anything special on this side of the football, ranking in the middle of the pack in points allowed (22.9) and total defense (347.4), yielding 248.4 passing yards (25th Overall) and an NFL-high NINETEEN passing touchdowns, while ranking twenty-seventh in takeaways (8) and third-worst in red zone defense (70.0%). Granted, (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo’s troops oftentimes see their opponents pulling out all the stops in an attempt to keep up with their own offense, but we can’t help but feel that this unit hasn’t reached its potential quite yet.
When we last saw the Chiefs, they cruised to their third consecutive victory, that aforementioned 27-17 victory over the Jaguars, which really wasn’t as close as the final score would lead you to believe. After losing a fumble on their opening drive of the afternoon, Kansas City slowly amassed a 20-0 lead before the visiting side struck back with a touchdown of their own shortly before halftime. In the first half alone, the hosts outgained Jacksonville 314-159, with Mahomes tossing three touchdown passes to the aforementioned Toney and Valdes-Scantling, along with (Tight End) Noah Grey. Despite losing the turnover battle decisively (0-3), Reid’s charges nonetheless made short work of the Jags, besting them in total yards (486-315), first downs (26-17), rushing yards (155-75), sacks (5-0), and on third down (7-of-10 compared to 4-of-14). Mahomes completed 26-of-35 passes for 331 yards four touchdowns and an interception, while rushing for another thirty-nine yards on seven carries, with nine different targets catching pass, chief among them Kelce (no pun intended), who hauled in yet another score late in the third period. (Rookie Tailback) Isiah Pacheco continued to get a larger share of the rushing load, churning out a career-high eighty-two yards on sixteen carries (though did lose a fumble), while Toney got into the action with a pair of carries for another thirty-three yards. On Defense, (Defensive Tackle) Chris Jones was borderline dominant, with 1.5 sacks, a pair of QB hits, and a tackle for loss to his credit, while (Rookie Cornerback) Trent McDuffie made an impression with two deflected passes in his third game since returning from injured reserve. Looking to tonight’s affair in Los Angeles, the Chiefs will be looking to sweep the season series with the Chargers for the first time since 2019. Though just 5-5 in their last ten meetings against the spread, they have been a near lock in this regard in Southern California, covering all but two of their last ten trips west to the City of Angels. With that said, Kansas City is a disappointing 0-5-1 against the spread in their last six games following a straight-up win, which happens to be the case tonight. When these two sides met earlier this season at Arrowhead Stadium, the hosts overcame a slow start to rally back to steal a 27-24 victory, with the contest shifting in their favor following a 99-yard pick 6 courtesy of (Rookie Defensive Back) Jaylen Watson midway through the final stanza. Mahomes completed 24-of-35 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while (veteran Tailback) Clyde Edwards-Helaire totaled 118 yards from scrimmage on just twelve touches. The aforementioned Jones compiled two sacks and three tackles for loss in this one, while (Linebackers) Willie Gay and Nick Bolton combined for twenty-one tackles. On the injury front, the Chiefs will be without (Defensive End) Frank Clark, who will continue to serve his suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, while (Offensive Linemen) Andrew Wylie and Lucas Niang along with (Wideout/Return Man) Mecole Hardman are all listed as questionable with various bumps and bruises. Furthermore, Smith-Schuster, who had really been coming on of late, is currently in concussion protocol after leaving last Sunday’s game following a blow to the head.
Meanwhile, for a team that some fashioned to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Chargers (5-4, 2nd in AFC West) appear to be very much the same maddeningly inconsistent side that they were last season, which was the first under (Head Coach) Brandon Staley’s watch. Indeed, the transition to Staley was always going to be an arduous process for the Bolts, who were making major changes from a strategic standpoint on both sides of the football. Of course, scheme changes lead to roster turnover, which is where Los Angeles had thought they turned the corner following an offseason in which they splashed a lot of cash in an attempt to get Staley personnel better suited for his tactics. After years of running a variation of the Seattle Cover-3, Staley instituted a move to his preferred 3-4 base scheme featuring a wealth of complex combo coverages on the back end, which requires stouter, stronger defenders in the front seven, particularly in the trenches. Back in the spring, Staley and (General Manager) Tom Telesco broke the bank for (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) J.C. Jackson in Free Agency, traded for (former Defensive Player of the Year) Khalil Mack, and extended (versatile Safety) Derwin James to a long-term deal. So, what in the name of Junior Seau has gone wrong, you ask? Well, Jackson lasted just five games before being lost for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon and dislocated kneecap, while (Pro-Bowl Defensive End) Joey Bosa, who was supposed to form the league’s most dynamic pass-rushing tandem with Mack, has been out on injured reserve since week four with a partially torn groin and isn’t expected to return until early December. Granted, those two players generally inform their pass defense, which doesn’t explain their continued struggles against stopping the run; the Chargers were dreadful in this regard last year, yielding 138.9 yards on the ground (30th Overall) on a very giving 4.6 yards per carry (28th Overall), only to take a step backward thus far in yielding 146.8 rushing yards (30th Overall) on 5.4 yards per attempt (31st Overall). Again, the problem has been personnel, which lacks the requisite traits to successfully run this kind of scheme, with that notion compounded by a number of losses across the Defensive Line; a week after losing Austin Johnson to injured reserve with a fractured knee, Los Angeles lost both Christian Covington (pectoral) and Otito Ogbonnia (quadricep) to IR in last Sunday night’s 22-16 loss to the 49ers (more on that shortly), which happened remarkably after the team cut (former first round pick) Jerry Tillery earlier in the week. Needless to say, they are WOEFULLY THIN up front, and their opponents know it. Unfortunately, injuries have also been a recurring theme on the opposite side of the football, which at the very least is supposed to be their strength. No matter how badly the defense gets pummeled in the trenches, their saving grace has been Justin Herbert & Co saving the day, but with so many of his weapons on the mend, it’s become increasingly more difficult for the Pro-Bowl Quarterback to perform his weekly heroics. (Five-time Pro-Bowl Receiver) Keenan Allen has been relegated to a mere two games with a lingering hamstring malady, while (fellow Wideout) Mike Williams has missed the last two games with a high-ankle sprain. Furthermore, the Offensive Line has been hit hard with (Sophomore Left Tackle) Rashawn Slater landing on injured reserve with a ruptured biceps, while (fellow Tackle) Andrew Trainer have joined him in recent weeks. With that said, it’s a wonder that Herbert (pictured below) has continued to play at a high level, completing 65.8% of his passes for an average of 272.2 yards on 6.0 net yards per attempt with fourteen touchdowns opposed to six interceptions. Though he’s well off his touchdown pace of last year (38), he’s done an admirable job of playing through his own injuries, including a pair of fractured ribs suffered in that previous meeting with the Chiefs back in week two.
When we last saw the Chargers, they collapsed in a 22-16 loss at the 49ers last Sunday night, meeting defeat despite holding a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter. The theme of this one failing to finish, as Los Angeles found themselves settling for field goals far too often despite matching San Francisco’s physicality through large stretches of the contest. Staley’s troops started fast enough, taking the opening drive seventy-five yards downfield in seven plays, culminating in a 32-yard touchdown from Herbert to (young Receiver) DeAndre Carter. However, they would progress deep into Niners’ territory three more times in the first half, though failed to breach the end zone at every turn. The second half was nothing short of disappointing for the visitors, who were shut out the rest of the way, punting on their first three possessions post intermission, before turning it over on downs deep within their own territory, before Herbert was picked off on a desperate pass thrown under pressure late in the final period of play. As many predicted, the Bolts were battered against the run, with the hosts hanging 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns on them on forty-one carries, allowing them to dominate time of possession for a whopping 36:59. Staley’s troops in turn could muster just fifty-one yards on sixteen carries, while Herbert himself had a particularly tough day at the office, completing 21-of-35 passes for just 196 yards a touchdown and an interception, while taking a pair of sacks with a fumble. All of those losses in the Receiving Corps were painfully evident in this one, folks, as Herbert was literally dying for one of his targets to make a play. Defensively, the Chargers did a solid of job making plays, particularly in the first half with a forced fumble and recovery but they were simply too worn out in the second half to marshal much more resistance. Looking to tonight’s primetime affair at SoFi Stadium, where the oddsmakers haven’t been kind to a Los Angeles side that has failed to cover the spread in all but three of their last ten home games. As we stated earlier, they’ve struggled at home against the Chiefs, posting a 2-8 mark both straight-up and against the spread in their last ten home encounters, while going a middling 5-5 as an underdog against the spread versus Kansas City. With that said, have covered four consecutive games in which they’ve been an underdog between 3.5 to 10 points, which is the case tonight. In five career meetings, Herbert is 2-3 against the Chiefs, completing 66.4% of his passes for an average of 292.8 yards on 7.52 net yards per attempt, with thirteen touchdowns in comparison three interceptions, rushing for another three scores to boot. When they met earlier this season, Herbert balled out with 334 yards and three touchdowns but saw his side waste a 17-7 lead early in the second half, before tossing the ill-fated pick 6 in the end zone and being hampered by those aforementioned broken ribs late in the affair. On the injury front, there is growing optimism that both Allen and Williams could return to action tonight, which would be a boon to the passing attack, which lost (Tight End) Gerald Everett to a strained groin last weekend. Speaking of returns, (veteran Kicker) Dustin Hopkins could also return from a hamstring strain that has sidelined him for three games, though his replacement, Cameron Dicker has been one of the better stories coming out of Los Angeles of late.