Thursday Night Football Preview: Chargers at Chiefs
LA Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs -3.5 | Over/Under: 53
Last Weeks Recap
Welcome back to the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Football Preview! Last week, I chose the Tennessee Titans to beat the Jaguars and cover the spread in the process. The Titans delivered and took the contest by a score of 30-9, as Derrick Henry had a historic evening, rushing for 238 yards and 4 TDs. We’ll look to make it 2 in a row with this week’s picks!
- Brad’s TNF Picks Season Record (incl. Thanksgiving):
- Straight-Up: 12-3
- Against the Spread: 11-3-1
Chargers at Chiefs
Thursday Night Preview
This Thursday Night, Anthony Lynn’s Chargers squad (10-3) will head to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the AFC leading Chiefs (11-2). Andy Reid’s Chiefs are currently home favorites (-3.5) to take this contest. This game will be quite the treat, as these division foes have two of the best records in the AFC. The outcome could also really have an effect on the AFC Playoff Picture. Last week, the Chargers outlasted the Bengals, winning 26-21.
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes put on a dazzling performance, converting some late 4th downs with the game on the line, and keeping the Chiefs alive. Kansas City ultimately knocked off the Ravens 27-24. These teams battled in Week 1 with the Chiefs emerging victorious by a score of 38-28.
The second-year QB, Patrick Mahomes has been stellar this year, taking the league by storm with his creative throws, and fantastic arm talent. He’s already thrown 43 TDs through 13 games and has averaged just over 330 yards per game in the air. Mahomes is an MVP frontrunner and has vaulted himself among the league’s elite. After only appearing in 1 game last year, many thought Mahomes had the potential to make a jump, but never could’ve foreseen such a meteoric rise. He’s thrown for 4 or more TD in 7 of his 13 games this year, even tossing 6 TDs in 2 separate contests. He’s also had a flair for the exciting moments, making amazing left-handed and no-look passes, and playing in multiple primetime games. It’s quite clear that Mahomes is establishing himself as one of the league’s best, and that his potential is limitless.
For LA, Philip Rivers has had one of his most effective years at the age of 37. Through 13 games, he sports a 29:6 TD to INT ratio and has averaged just under 280 yards per game. Not bad for one of the league’s oldest Quarterbacks. Rivers is almost certain to eclipse his career-high 34 TDs in a season that he logged a decade ago in 2008. He’s led the Chargers to a fantastic (albeit quiet) 10-3 record, and with a win on Thursday, has a chance to stage a late-season rally and unseat the Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC. Rivers’ 6 INTs through 13 games is evidence that he’s been taking care of the ball quite well; and with a stout defense to boot, it’s been a huge asset for Los Angeles thus far. So far, the Chargers boast a +5 takeaway ratio, widely thanks to Rivers’ lack of INTs. He’ll need to be at the top of his game on Thursday night to keep up with Mahomes.
After releasing Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs have been leaning on the tandem of Spencer Ware and Damien Williams to carry the load in the backfield. Ware is the lead back at the moment but has sat out two consecutive practices to start the week. Being that he was on the field for the waning moments of the Week 14 win, I expect him to play on Thursday night, but his status is worth monitoring. Andy Reid is calling him day-to-day, and Williams would take over as the lead back if Ware were to miss time. In two games as a starter, Ware has picked up steam. After logging 54 yards and a TD in Week 13, Ware posted 129 total yards in Week 14 against the Ravens’ stout front. Hunt’s absence leaves a huge vacancy in the Chiefs’ offense, but Ware’s continued production will certainly help keep the offense afloat. Williams logged 2 TDs against the Ravens, proving that the two backs work well together and can produce when given the opportunity.
Los Angeles’ backfield situation is quite the disaster right now. Melvin Gordon, one of the league’s best backs, has not played since injuring his knee in Week 12. Gordon was on a tear before going down, rushing for 802 yards and 9 TDs in only 10 games, while adding 4 TD receptions. There are whispers that he has a chance to suit up this week, and was shown getting some work in on the field before Week 14’s contest. He did practice in a limited capacity on Tuesday, showing that he does have a chance to play on Thursday.
Should Gordon play, his timing would be impeccable, as Austin Ekeler is doubtful for Thursday night with a neck injury and a concussion. With Ekeler out, if Gordon still wasn’t ready, Justin Jackson would need to step in as the starter. Jackson, a rookie from Northwestern, had a rough Week 14 against the Bengals, although his workload was limited. In the two games prior, he flashed major potential though and averaged over 8 yards per touch. His work has been limited all year, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with a full workload if Gordon is, indeed, held out.
The Chiefs receiving corps starts and ends (mainly) with Tyreek Hill. Unfortunately, Hill was a bit banged up at the tail end of Sunday’s game, but he’s trending in the right direction now and should be able to suit up on Thursday night. He practiced in a limited capacity on Tuesday, and the Chiefs hope he’ll be back healthy for TNF. Hill has continued to be one of the league’s best and most dynamic pass catchers. He’s a threat to take any reception the distance and demands 100% of the defense’s attention at all times. His blazing speed takes the top off of defenses, and forces opposing teams to adjust their scheme to contain him. In his first full year with Mahomes at the helm, Tyreek has thrived. He’s caught 74 balls for 1,258 yards and 11 TDs. This success should come as no surprise, as the speedster is lethal when combined with Mahomes’ huge deep ball throws.
The WR corps dries up after Hill, though, as Sammy Watkins hasn’t played since Week 11. To further complicate matters, Kareem Hunt was the team’s #4 producer in receiving yards. With the loss of Watkins and Hunt, the Chiefs are really strapped for pass-catching options. Chris Conley and the newly-signed Kelvin Benjamin are the team’s other WR options, but neither carves out a huge role in this busy offense.
Travis Kelce, however, has ascended to the very top of the league’s tight end ranks. His 86 catches lead the team, and he’s logged 1,159 yards and 10 TDs. He leads the league in yardage among TEs, and is 2nd in TD catches (10) and receptions (86). Between Kelce and Hill, and Mahomes’ rocket arm, the Chiefs pose an incredibly dynamic offense that is near impossible for defenses to scheme against.
For LA, Keenan Allen remains one of the league’s brightest stars. He’s in the midst of one of his best years ever, logging 88 catches for 1,074 yards and 6 TDs through 13 games. Allen’s reliability and ability to get open make Rivers’ job quite easy at times. He’s also shown that he can handle the volume this year, as he’s stayed healthy and played in all of LA’s games. He’ll have a chance to threaten last year’s career-high marks of 102 catches and 1,393 yards with a few strong performances in the last 3 games of this season. Behind Allen, Tyrell Williams has continued to be a strong #2 and has produced like a WR1 at times this year. After logging back-to-back 118-yard games in the middle of the season, Williams has sputtered a bit, catching only 6 balls since Week 11. He’s very hot and cold but has proven his capacity to produce when Rivers can get him the ball. Gordon and Ekeler have carved out a large role in the receiving game thus far this year. Gordon’s 44 catches for 453 yards and Ekeler’s 39 catches for 404 yards will be sorely missed. It remains to be seen whether or not Jackson can be effective out of the backfield… so look for Williams and Allen to cannibalize some of those targets against this challenged Chiefs defense.
Second-year WR Mike Williams has also been mildly productive, catching 30 balls for 516 yards, which ranks third on the team. With Ekeler and potentially Gordon out, look for Williams’ role to also increase aside Tyrell and Keenan Allen. Veteran TE Antonio Gates has also been a part of the offense, catching a few TDs while filling in for the injured Hunter Henry. The return of Henry (if he’s able to) will certainly be a well-needed shot in the arm for LA.
The Chargers certainly have an advantage on the defensive side of the ball with the return of DE Joey Bosa, one of the league’s elite pass rushers. The Chargers are top 10 in the NFL in total defense, allowing just over 330 yards per game. On the other hand, the Chiefs’ defense is among the league’s worst, allowing just under 410 yards per game. Mahomes will certainly be tested by the Chargers’ formidable secondary, led by Casey Hayward.
Along with Trevor Williams (if active) and Desmond King, these DBs will have to work with the LB corps to contain Travis Kelce and keep a lid on Tyreek Hill and any deep shots. Bosa and Melvin Ingram’s ability to get to Mahomes will certainly help matters, although Mahomes has shown an amazing ability to throw on the run and under pressure. Rivers, on the other hand, should have a more favorable matchup, as the Chiefs have allowed the most yards to opposing QBs of any team in the NFL this year. Look for a big game out of Rivers in what I expect to be a shootout. If Kendall Fuller is matched up with Keenan Allen, he’ll have a tall task. Allen can really break a game open, so this would be a matchup to watch as well.
Aside from the aforementioned designations, Sammy Watkins and G Cam Erving didn’t practice on Tuesday, while Eric Berry and Hill were limited. For LA, as mentioned, Gordon logged a limited practice, while Ekeler, Brandon Mebane, Trevor Williams, Sean Culkin missed practice. We’ll want to monitor these statuses as the week goes on.
We’re in for a treat, as these teams have a combined record of 21-5. The Chargers are currently holding a wild-card spot but could make strides towards a Divison Title with a win on Thursday night. Melvin Gordon (if healthy) could make a huge impact, so that certainly plays a part in this pick. With that said, to keep up with the Chiefs, you have to exploit their weaknesses (pass defense) and score a ton of points. Additionally, a few turnovers would be quite helpful to your cause, which becomes difficult as the away team in the raucous Arrowhead Stadium atmosphere. In any event, Philip Rivers is the key player in this game. As Rivers goes, the Chargers go. Dating back to 2016, Rivers has only thrown 2 TDs compared to 6 INTs at Arrowhead Stadium. Not great at all. When you combine that with the cloud of uncertainty at the RB position for LA, I can’t take the Chargers in this one. I don’t see Rivers’ trend of mediocrity @ KC miraculously ending, and feel that Mahomes will make enough throws at home to take this one, covering the spread in the process.
Give me the Chiefs to win. I’ll take them to cover (-3.5), by a score of 30-25.
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