Perhaps the only thing Kansas City and San Diego have in common is that their football teams tend to win and lose in streaks that bookend their seasons. Two years ago San Diego started the season 5-1 and missed the playoffs. Last year the Chiefs went 1-6 to start the season, then won ten in a row to make it to the divisional round of the AFC Championship. Kansas City hasn’t made a ton of changes to their pretty good but often unhealthy 2015 squad, while San Diego is already experiencing both financial and physical issues with this year’s number three overall, defensive end Joey Bosa, who has yet to practice in pads with the team following contract disputes and muscle tightness. Don’t expect him to play week one, but if he does, he could be a real difference maker. Chiefs QB Alex Smith is easily rattled and a hard-hittin’ big fella like Bosa would really knock him off his game.
The potential loss of Bosa is a big hit to San Diego’s already weak rushing defense, which has to contend to with Jamaal Charles at home, where they were excellent last year on their way to that 10-game winning streak to wrap up the season (which, by the way, they accomplished without Charles, who had been on injured reserve with a torn ACL since week 5). In two of those games, the Chiefs whomped the Chargers by a combined score of 43-6.
Historically, long-time Chargers QB Philip Rivers, now in his tenth year as starter, is not great against the Chiefs and hasn’t beaten them since a couple of late season squeakers in 2013. That shakiness can be a real liability when you’ve got Marcus Peters and Eric Berry downfield waiting for you to miss your mark by an inch or two. Speaking of Marcus Peters: his match-up with San Diego receiver Keenan Allen this Sunday will be the one to watch. Expect speedy, physical play from both of those guys.
While QB Alex Smith might be a little jumpy in the pocket, his tendency to check down his options isn’t as scary when he’s got Jamaal Charles in the backfield and Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin in front of him. San Diego doesn’t have the most threatening pass rush, KC’s front line should be able to hold them back.
The coaching match-up is a wash. Kansas City’s Andy Reid has a great mind for football but is indecisive in his execution in critical drives late in the game. Since the Chargers hired Mike McCoy, the NFL’s youngest head coach, their record in close games has been abysmal, and they’ve steadily descended the AFC West ladder since he replaced Norv Turner in 2013.
Kansas City is the superior team, but not by as much as it may seem on paper. They tend to start the season weak and finish strong, especially against divisional opponents, so even a Bosa-less Chargers has a chance to give the Chiefs a run for their money.
Speaking of money, mine is still on the Chiefs, by at least a touchdown, but I expect a high-scoring game with a fair number of errors on all sides of the ball.