I don’t know for certain if it has been a conscious effort on the league’s part to place a greater emphasis on the Thursday Night Football games this season but we are getting two excellent games in terms of team quality, significance, and star power to start the season off. This one may very well be the game of the week as the Bolts head to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs.
(+170) Los Angeles Chargers 1-0 at (-205) Kansas City Chiefs 1-0 (-4, O/U 54)
These teams split the season series last year, with each of them winning on one the other’s home turf. Most recently, KC pulled off a come-from-behind, overtime win after the Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley’s overly aggressive coaching philosophy continually left the door ajar. Travis Kelce roasted the Bolts’ defense in that matchup for 10 catches, 191 yards, and 2TDs (including the OT game-winner). However, Tyreek Hill was a massive piece of that win going for 12 catches, 148 yards, and a TD. He’s gone now and in a game that suggests a shootout, KC is going to have to get that production somewhere.
While that Thursday night game in Los Angeles last season effectively submarined their shot at the division crown and cost them a playoff spot, the Chargers did win on the road in Kansas City back in Week 3 last year. However, they head into Arrowhead without Keenan Allen who left Week 1’s game vs the Raiders with a hamstring injury. Allen is their best route runner by a good margin and can force separation with great hands. While Mike Williams did have a monster game in that Week 3 matchup (7/122/2) and is in a good spot to have a big game again here, Allen accounted for a 34% target share in that game (30% overall vs KC last season). That’s a tremendous amount of vacated targets, so whether or not Williams produces the key to a Chargers’ win is going to be getting production from other receiving targets.
Tight End Donald Parham, Jr. is out for this game so that should make Gerald Everett a pretty strong option. DeAndre Carter had a nice opening game vs Las Vegas (3/64/1) but also benefitted from attention placed elsewhere. This is a spot where Joshua Palmer is going to have to produce. The 2nd-year WR showed some big flashes last season and his snap count will be up in this game. This should also be a great spot for Austin Ekeler to be featured in the passing and ground attacks. It was tough sledding on the ground against a strong Raiders defensive front, but he found good success through the air (9.0-YPC) and finished with 72 scrimmage yards. He’s their most dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and I’d try to get him some touches early.
The Chiefs offense didn’t appear to miss Tyreek Hill too much vs the Cardinals in Week 1, but I also don’t think the Cards’ defense is of the same quality as either the Raiders or the Chargers. I’m not discounting Patrick Mahomes surgical, 5 TD performance but it’ll be more difficult against the Bolts’ defense that sacked Derek Carr 5 times, picked him off 3 times, and forced 3 fumbles. That’s pressure Mahomes didn’t see in Week 1, and the Khalil Mack move was certainly made by the LAC with KC in mind.
The Chiefs’ defense looks a bit different too. Bashaud Breeland had already departed for Minnesota but Charvarius Ward left for San Francisco and Tyrann Matthieu left for the Saints. Even though Rashad Fenton and L’Jarius Sneed have played in this system, this is a much different secondary as a whole. The front end is still anchored by Chris Jones and Frank Clark, and Carlos Dunlap jumped in as a pass rusher, but I see fertile soil for a shoot-out.
Juju Smith-Schuster slotted himself into the KC offense well in his first game, with 6 grabs for 79 yards, and Travis Kelce did exactly what you’d expect as the top option in that offense, with 8 snags for 121 yards and a TD. The Hyphen (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) had a good showing too with 10 touches for 74 yards and two receiving TDs. Realistically, that AZ game was a cakewalk for the Chiefs and they spent the second half working on wrinkles and finding a nice role for rookie RB Isaiah Pacheco.
When the Chiefs look at the tape, they are going to see the Chargers’ pass rush threat is notable. Andy Reid is a smart coach and he knows the best way to handle that is to establish the run (which the Raiders did have success in but abandoned) and throw to the RBs out of the backfield (which the Raiders didn’t try as Carr was too focused on his shiny new toy in Davante Adams). I would think both the Hyphen and Jerrick McKinnon should see at least 5 targets a piece, and KCs RB versatility can keep all 3 backs in on running plays to set up some play action. If the Bolts can effectively limit Kelce, which I haven’t seen them do before, that should open up some big play opportunities downfield for Marquez Valdes Scantling. He is still getting acclimated, but he seems to be their best downfield threat.
One extra thing to keep an eye on is the absence of Kansas City’s longtime kicker, Harrison Butker. He rolled his ankle on a kickoff vs the Cards and hung in there but was ruled out for this one and I just saw that they brought in Matt Amendola to kick for this one. Butker didn’t kick a ton of field goals in their meetings last year but it will change the 4th down philosophy for KC from the 40 to the 25-yard line in the offensive zone. Ammendola didn’t miss for the Jets last year from inside 40 yards, but he was only 2-for-8 from beyond 40 yards. In a close game with an important long field goal, don’t be surprised to see Reid leave the offense on the field.
In looking at the two Week1 one matchups, I like the overall quality of the Bolts’ win over the Raiders a little better. Yes, the Chiefs dominated the Cards and looked great but I don’t view AZ as improved after their embarrassing playoff exit. Not yet anyway. Las Vegas definitely improved and they pushed the Chargers but that’s also the concerning part for LA. In a game where they did have 5 sacks, 3 INTs, and forced 3 fumbles, Adams and Waller still went off and they were in real danger of losing at the end.
That says something about how good the Raiders are, but it also raises some flags. The Chargers have shown no ability to stop the Chiefs’ best weapon and the odds of them sacking Mahomes 5 times is much lower. I expect there to be some effective pressure on him, but I doubt he throws 3 INTs either. So, can the Chargers beat the Chiefs if they don’t get that from their defense?
Well, yes. When LA won in KC in Week 3 last season, Mahomes was sacked twice and threw 2 INTs including the one that allowed the Chargers to take the 4th quarter lead. It is possible, but I know the Chiefs remember that one getting away too and I think the Keenan Allen injury is going to be a big factor at this juncture.
Pick: KC | ATS: KC -4 | O/U: Over 54 | Final: KC 31- 26 LAC
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