SAN DIEGO (AP) — What totally different experiences the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers could have Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium.
Already in the playoffs for the third time in four years, Alex Smith and the Chiefs (11-4) need to beat the Chargers (5-10) and have the Denver Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders in order to clinch the AFC West title and a first-round bye.
The games kick off at the same time, and it’ll be tempting for the Chiefs to check the antiquated Jumbotron at the aging stadium for Raiders-Broncos updates.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are putting their beaten-down fans through another possible final game in San Diego. Chairman Dean Spanos, unable to find a solution to replace Qualcomm Stadium, is threatening for the second straight year to move to Los Angeles. He has until Jan. 15 to decide. Fans thought last year’s home finale, a win against the Dolphins, was the end. Now this game might be.
The Chargers have the look of a franchise that’s flaming out. Raiders fans overran Qualcomm Stadium two weeks ago to cheer on an Oakland win. Then the Chargers lost to the previously winless Cleveland Browns.
This is a rematch of a season opener that set the tone for the Chargers’ wretched season. After taking a 27-10 lead with 13:24 to play at Kansas City on Sept. 11, the Chargers allowed the Chiefs to come racing back for a 33-27 overtime victory. It was the first of six blown fourth-quarter leads for the Bolts.
Here are some things to look for when the Chiefs visit the Chargers in maybe the last NFL game ever in San Diego:
ALEX SMITH: Chargers fans aren’t the only ones not knowing how emotions will play out Sunday. Smith grew up in the San Diego area and went to Helix High in suburban La Mesa, where he was teammates with Reggie Bush. He knows all about Qualcomm Stadium.
“Weird. I played there in high school and I played there in college. I think it’d be strange and sad if the Chargers left,” Smith said. “That’s just for me personally and the community having grown up there. Obviously, I’m getting ready to play a game so it’s not on the forefront of my mind, but definitely sad. I hope they stay.”
LAST TIME, PART II? Chargers QB Philip Rivers doesn’t think this game will have the same emotions as last year’s home finale, when players came back out onto the field to greet fans following the victory against Miami.
“I don’t think we can try to re-enact or try to take two of that,” Rivers said. “That was very authentic and very just the way it happened. We beat Miami the next-to-last game to win our fourth game, it had been a rough year, and I think both the fans, the players, everybody, thought it was the end, and it just kind of organically happened. There was no plan for staying out after and signing autographs and doing all that we did, and it just happened. I don’t know that you can re-enact that.
“I don’t know what to anticipate on Sunday. I don’t think it will be the same feel. We’ll see how it goes.”
HOT SEAT: This could be Mike McCoy’s last game as Chargers coach. He’s 27-36 in four seasons and the Chargers will finish last in the AFC West for the second straight year. The Chargers went to the playoffs in McCoy’s first season, 2013. San Diego was 8-4 going into December 2014, but has gone 10-25 since, including 1-12 in the AFC West. Overall, San Diego has missed the playoffs six times in seven seasons.
GATESY: San Diego’s Antonio Gates needs one touchdown catch to tie former Chiefs and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record of 111 for a tight end.
INJURIES: Chiefs coach Andy Reid said outside linebacker Justin Houston continues to have “some inflammation” in his surgically repaired left knee. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who needs 3 yards for his first 1,000-yard season, hopes to play after missing the last two games with a hip injury.