Chiefs set to host Chargers in battle for AFC West supremacy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The teams meeting Saturday night share striking similarities, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers sitting atop the AFC West with 7-6 records and seeking the inside track to the division crown with two games left after their showdown at Arrowhead Stadium.
The teams share another startling similarity as they each have a four-game losing streak on their resume. Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn said he believes his team’s winless skid opening the season made his squad stronger.
“Coaches are understanding what we do better, I’m understanding this team better and the guys are executing better,” Lynn said. “With the effort that we’ve always had, this is kind of what we had envisioned before the season started. I think we went through some tough times early and I think those tough times have helped make us better and prepared us for this stretch we’re in now.”
The Chargers now sit on a four-game winning streak, blowing out their opponents 131-53 in that stretch. Quarterback Philip Rivers owns three-straight 300-yard passing games and Los Angeles piled up 174 yards rushing last week against the Washington Redskins.
Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson said he sees the same offense with one small tweak since the last time the two teams met, a 24-10 Chiefs win back in Week 3.
“The only difference is they’re running the ball a little bit better,” Johnson said. “Philip is still Philip. He’s doing a great job in the passing game. He still takes his shots down field. If you make a mistake, he’s going to capitalize off of it for sure.”
Kansas City coach Andy Reid remains wary of the threat Rivers poses along with his favorite target, wide receiver Keenan Allen.
“He’s time-tested,” Reid said of Rivers. “He’s been doing it a long time and at a very high level. He’s got Allen who’s healthy and that’s his guy and he’s playing at a high level. So he’s in tune with the offense and his players and things are clicking for him.”
While the Chargers started 0-4 and are 7-2 since, the Chiefs season offers a mirror-image. The club started 5-0 before their 2-6 slide left them in a dog fight for the AFC West.
But Kansas City showed signs of righting the ship last week with a convincing 26-15 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Lynn sees the same team he saw in Week 3.
“Watching the game last week, they look like they picked up where the left off,” Lynn said. “Their guys making plays all over the field and I thought they played well. They have weapons on the offensive side of the ball at every skill position. Lot of speed, lot of team speed.”
The teams seem to be relatively healthy. The Chiefs will likely be without starting center Mitch Morse, who appears likely to miss his second straight game after re-aggravating a sprained left foot that kept him out of five games earlier this season. The offensive line fared well without Morse last week as the team piled up 165 rushing yards and kept quarterback Alex Smith relatively clean.
But Reid acknowledges that Kansas City’s offensive line faces a tougher task this week facing San Diego’s aggressive pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
“They’re bringing it every snap,” Reid said. “They’re great with their combinations and twist games. They’re going to give you four good quarters of aggressive football.”
Chargers starting left tackle Russell Okung (knee) along with starting defensive tackle Corey Liuget (toe) were limited participants in practice Tuesday and Wednesday but appear likely to play Saturday.
The rare Saturday night game brings a touch of history to Arrowhead Stadium. This marks only the seventh Saturday game and first Saturday primetime game in the stadium’s 46-year history.
“Both teams have something on the line this late in the year, it’s kind of a neat deal,” Reid said. “Our guys are well aware of that and we’re lucky we’re playing here at Arrowhead.”
With Saturday’s game looming as a must-win for both, Lynn said he thinks that gives his battle-tested team an advantage.
“When you start out the season 0-4, you start feeling like it’s a must-win game back in September,” Lynn said. “We’ve been in this situation every single week.”