What to expect: Chargers Week 1 prediction

The San Diego Chargers open up the regular season on the road against an AFC West opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs. What should we expect?

The matchup : Sunday, Sept. 11th. San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Arrowhead Stadium. 10:00 a.m. (PST).

Keys to victory: Protect Philip Rivers! Protect Philip Rivers! PROTECT PHILIP RIVERS! This is not just a Week 1 key to victory…this goes for every week. Keeping one of the best QBs in the league upright is the easiest ways to victory week to week. I feel the need to highlight it this week, in particular, due to the simple fact that the Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most dominant pass-rushing duos in the NFL.

In 2015, the Chiefs, who started 1-5, were ranked 12th in pressure rate. They finished the year with one of the hottest win streaks in the NFL at 11-5. The defense was dominant and would help push their pressure ranking to third in the NFL, while ripping off 11 wins in a row. The surge was led by LOLB Justin Houston, who finished 2015 with 30 tackles, 7.5 sacks, one FF and two INTs (11 Games), and by ROLB Tamba Hali, who finished 2015 with 68 tackles, 6.5 sacks and two FF (16 games).

Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Jaye Howard (96) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There are many other impact players on the defense, too. Defending Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Peters, who is a complete ball hawk,  finished his rookie year with 60 tackles, 1 FF, eight INTs and two TDs (16 games). Then there’s Eric Berry, whose name also has to be mentioned when talking about the Chiefs, as a complete all-around player and a major leader in the locker room. Berry, who finished 2015 with 61 tackles, 10 pass defended plays and 2 INTs, just signed his franchise tender and should be all ready to go.

The Chargers may be getting a break come Week 1 because Justin Houston is not likely to play. He is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He is recovering from an ACL and LCL surgery.

Also, the Chargers’ offense needs to be able to put points on the board. Sounds pretty generic, right? Put points on the board and win the game. I am purposely pointing this out because in two games vs. our AFC West foe. the Chargers put up a combined score of six points. Six Points!  Look for the Chargers to establish the run with the possible absence of Houston. Chargers should look to feed Melvin Gordon behind tackle King Dunlap and guard Orlando Franklin.

Another factor, which tends to be the most underrated one, is Arrowhead Stadium itself. A Week 1 AFC West divisional game at Arrowhead Stadium for an early lead at the AFC West crown? Preparing for crowd noise that loud can be hard to do. Arrowhead Stadium is the loudest and one of most hostile stadiums in the NFL. Chiefs fans actually set the world record for the loudest crowd roar in a sports stadium on Sept. 29th, 2014. They were recorded at 142.2 dBA. The previous owners of the crown? The Seattle Seahawks. Not bad company to compete with.

The last factor I think will be most important to victory is the Chargers’ front seven ability to contain the three-headed monster backfield of the Chiefs. The Chargers will have to contain Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Fortunately for the Bolts, Charles might not be ready for Week 1. There was a point in time when Charles was the only RB to worry about versus the Chiefs. That’s no longer the case as Ware and West together took over the backfield and both proved they could takeover the load in 2015 when Charles tore his ACL.

Stopping the run is key for the Chargers because I feel letting quarterback Alex Smith play from the pocket is the right way to play it. Smith is more of a game manager. He won’t give the ball away too much, but by no means lights up the stat chart either. Smith finished 2015 with 3,484 yards, 20 TDs and seven INTs. (16 games) The Chargers’ secondary should prove to be better than last year with key addition Casey Hayward, who was acquired in free agency, to match with Pro Bowler Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.

My Take: I think the Chargers edge this game out. I think the Chargers will contain the run game of the Chiefs and make Smith beat them with his arm. For the most part, our defense is much improved from 2015 and will give our high-powered offense enough chances to win the game. Rivers and the offense will have enough weapons to keep the Chiefs’ defense (without Justin Houston as well as Hali playing a limited role) on their toes and sneak away with a victory at Arrowhead Stadium. FINAL SCORE: Chargers – 24, Chiefs – 17.

Projected Record: 1-0

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