8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Chiefs -5, Over/Under: 53
Desperation begins to set in as Division Rivals meet in an affair south of the border, as the reeling Kansas City Chiefs battle the disappointing Los Angeles Chargers from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico. After beginning the season in torrid fashion winning their first four games, the Chiefs (6-4, 1st in AFC West) have seen their season derailed to a degree thanks to some injuries to key personnel on the offensive side of the football, and as a result are forced to play catch-up in the standings. What’s gone wrong for Kansas City, you ask? Well, it’s a two-fold issue, as reigning MVP Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes (66.3%, 2,626 YDS, 8.46 NY/A, 18 TD, 1 INT, 80.8 QBR), sustained a knee injury that caused him to underperform in consecutive games and then miss back-to back weeks before finally returning to the field in last weekend’s encounter with the pesky Tennessee Titans. Needless to say, this Offense is vastly different without the services of Mahomes, who last season tossed a franchise record Fifty Touchdowns en route to the league’s MVP award, leading his side to a 12-4 record and homefield throughout the Playoffs. It appeared that he was destined for even bigger things in 2019, leading the league in a multitude of categories, including Interception Percentage (0.3%), Yards per Attempt (9.0), Yards per Completion (13.6), Yards per Game (328.3), Net Yards per Attempt (8.46), and Sack Percentage (3.3%) before that aforementioned knee malady, though his relatively quick return doesn’t appear to have been premature; in last Sunday’s 32-35 defeat at home to the Titans, the 24-Year Old Signal-Caller completed 36-of-50 Passes for a season-high 446 Yards and Three Touchdowns, finding Pro-Bowl Receiver, Tyreek Hill (33 REC, 543 YDS, 16.5 Y/R, 5 TD), on eleven occasions for 157 Yards and a score in just their third game together since the Season Opener, while hitting his Rookie teammate, Mecole Hardman (21 REC, 437 YDS, 20.8 Y/R, 5 TD), on an unorthodox jump pass for a 63-Yard score. With Mahomes back under Center, Hill looking like his old self following a four-game absence due to a partially fractured collarbone, and the Offensive Line slowly returning to full strength, expect this group to continue to round into the dynamic, explosive form that they were earlier in the campaign. However, as great as that side of the football performed, the Chiefs still lost the football game, and that more or less comes down to the Defense, which has once again proven to be a lingering issue after basically costing them an opportunity to advance to Super Bowl LIII. In an attempt to rectify that matter, Andy Reid brought his old friend, Steve Spagnuolo, in as the team’s new Defensive Coordinator, which included a massive transition from the 3-4 Scheme that they had been running for years to a more Zone-based, 4-3 alignment, with a host of new faces to help further their progression. On paper, the likes of Edge-Rusher, Frank Clark (21 TKL, 6 TFL, 5 QBH, 4.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 2 PD), whom the club traded for on Draft Day, athletic Linebacker Darron Lee (22 TKL), and Pro-Bowl Defensive Back, Tyrann Mathieu (42 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 INT, 5 PD), should be excellent fits within this rebuilt unit, but their inclusion has yet to bear the necessary fruit that the team’s hierarchy was expecting. It’s long been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and with that said, Kansas City’s Defense appears to be taking considerably longer; in 2019, Spagnuolo’s troops have allowed 23.9 Points per Game (19th Overall) on 369.5 Total Yards (22nd Overall), really getting pushed around in the trenches where opponents have proceeded to gash them for a dismal 148.1 Rushing Yards (31st Overall) on 5.1 Yards per Carry (30th Overall). In their four losses, they’ve permitted an average of 178.8 Yards on the round, including a season-worst 225 in the aforementioned loss to the Titans. However, what’s really hurt them is that when these teams have enjoyed such success on the ground, they’re doing so with the designs of controlling Time of Possession, which has oftentimes left the explosive Passing Game on the sidelines. Basically, instead of Mahomes & Co. enjoying eight to nine Possession per Game, they’re only getting six, which dramatically changes their approach. In losses to the Colts, Texans, and Packers, they possessed the football for 22:45, 20:12, and 26:14, which simply isn’t enough time to settle into a rhythm offensively. With that said, we’ll revert back to that affair in Tennessee in which the visiting Chiefs managed to come up short despite holding possession for a season-high 37:54. In this case, the Titans managed to steal a victory despite being bested on multiple fronts; they were behind in Total Yards (371-530), First Downs (19-28), and Time of Possession (22:09), gave up more Sacks (4, 35 YDS Lost), and were far worse on Third Down (2-of-8), but all of that didn’t matter, as their Quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, engineered a 61-Yard Drive in Fifty-Eight Seconds, hitting his Receiver, Adam Humphries, for a 23-Yard Touchdown with just Twenty-Nine Seconds remaining in the game. The visiting side would have one more chance, attempting a 52-Yrd Field Goal that was ultimately blocked as time expired.
Meanwhile, if the Chiefs have issues, then the Chargers (4-6, 3rd in AFC West) must be suffering through a bonafide crisis. Fashioned by many as a legitimate threat to reach Super Bowl LIII, Los Angeles has been one of the most disappointing teams in the league thus far, with many of the issues that have plagued them in the past once again rising to the forefront. How many times has this team been proclaimed as a contender over the years due to an abundance of talent and experience, and how many times have they fallen considerably short of those expectations? Last season, they surprised many by going 12-4, earning their first Playoff appearance since 2013, on the strength of a balanced Offense predicated on a punishing Rushing Attack that alleviated the burden from the shoulders of their veteran Quarterback, coupled with a nasty young Defense routinely applied pressure to the opposing Passer and made plays. However, in 2019, virtually none of that is true, with Anthony Lynn searching for answers as his charges are staring at a 4-7 record heading into their Bye Week. It’s become abundantly clear that Lynn isn’t happy with his Offense, prompting the Head Coach to relieve Offensive Coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, of his duties following a narrow Week Eight victory over the struggling Chicago Bears (17-16). Up until that point, the Lightning Bolts had gone six consecutive games rushing for fewer than Eighty Yards, which included four straight outings where they could muster no more Thirty-Nine Yards, which had to drive Lynn a longtime Running Backs Coach, absolutely nuts. Of course, it didn’t help that Pro-Bowl Tailback, Melvin Gordon (86 CAR, 300 YDS, 3.5 Y/C, 4 TD) missed all of Training Camp, the Preseason, and the first four contests due to a Holdout that ultimately failed to result in the new contract or trade that he had desired. With his fitness in question, he’s averaged a career-worst 3.5 Yards per Carry, while Chargers have rushed for a meager 86.1 Yards (26th Overall) on 3.8 Yards per Carry (25th Overall). Of course, this has meant that at the age of thirty-eight, Philip Rivers (65.9%, 2,816 YDS, 7.00 NY/A, 14 TD, 10 INT, 50.5 QBR) is throwing the ball more than he ever has, which we have to imagine has run counter to what the club wanted to do heading into the campaign. The eight-time Pro-Bowl Quarterback was coming off a season in which he attempted just 508 Passes, his fewest since 2009, leading to one of his most efficient seasons in ages. In 2019, he’s leading the league in Passing Attempts (240), Completions (364), and Passing Yards (2,816), on pace for the second-most Passes Thrown in his venerable career. So in the two games following Whisenhunt’s ousting, is it any surprise to see the Lynn has reinstituted the emphasis of running the football? in their last two outings, Los Angeles has looked far more committed to the Run, averaging 152.5 Yards per Game, with their total of 305 Yards eclipsing their production from the previous six games combined. While that approach worked flawlessly in a shocking 26-11 victory over the surging Green Bay Packers, it didn’t net the desired results in their midweek 24-26 defeat at the surprising Oakland Raiders. In an affair in which the visitors really pushed around their opponent besting them in Total Yards (315-278), First Downs (26-18), Penalties (8 for 70 Yards Lost in comparison to 12 for 97 Yards Lost), and Time of Possession (34:10), the Chargers were effectively their own worst enemy, with Rivers under intense pressure throughout the night, suffering Five Sacks for a loss of Thirty-Eight Yards, and throwing Three Interceptions, the first leading to a Field Goal, the second returned Fifty-Six Yards for a Touchdown, and the last ending the game altogether. The veteran Quarterback completed 17-of-31 Passes for 207 Yards, Two Touchdowns and the aforementioned triumvirate of Interceptions, while Gordon rushed for 108 Yards and a score on Twenty-Two Carries. Given their recent success on the ground, and the blueprint that has laid in combatting Mahomes and the high-flying Chiefs, expect these guys to attempt to run the ball down their opponent’s throat, for after all they did exactly that in a 29-28 victory in Mid-December of 2018. In that primetime affair, the visiting Bolts rallied back from an early 7-21 deficit, with Rivers masterfully engineering consecutive scoring drives in the Fourth Quarter of Seventy-Five and Sixty Yards, resulting in the go-ahead Touchdown with Four Seconds left to play in the game. When it was all said and done, the Chargers produced five Drives of Eight Plays or more, rushed for 119 Yards and possessed the football for 33:16.