Photo: Patrick Mahomes – Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Image North America

Preview: Chargers at Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs have a chance to take a huge step toward tightening their grip on the top overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when they host the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night. However, the Chiefs could see control of the conference as well as the AFC West diminish in a showdown for division supremacy against Los Angeles.

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History is on the side of Kansas City (11-2), which has won nine in a row over the Chargers (10-3) and extended the streak with a 38-28 victory in Los Angeles in the season opener. “The Chargers are a good team — a team that’s on a hot streak right now — and you’re basically playing for the AFC West title,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “You have to go out there and try to get yourself ready to go — physically and mentally – to win a football game.” Los Angeles has won three in a row overall and can clinch a playoff spot with a victory Thursday, but its last win over Kansas City was in 2013 — the last time the franchise advanced to the postseason. “The nine in a row is one thing, but personally I’m 0-3 against this team, and that’s too many,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We’re doing everything we can to try to break that streak. We’ve got to go out and play relaxed and very confident. That’s when this team plays its best football.”

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Chiefs -3.5. O/U: 53

ABOUT THE CHARGERS (10-3): Los Angeles could again be without star running back Melvin Gordon, who has 13 total touchdowns despite missing the past two games and told reporters Tuesday that he expects to be a game-day decision. Backup Austin Ekeler sustained a neck injury and concussion in Sunday’s win over Cincinnati and is expected to sit out, leaving the possibility that rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome will carry the ground game. Philip Rivers, who is third in the league in passer rating (114.5) and has thrown for 29 touchdowns against six interceptions, has connected with wideout Keenan Allen with a scoring pass in five straight games. Joey Bosa has four sacks in four games since returning to the lineup.

ABOUT THE CHIEFS (11-2): Kansas City has withstood a pair of close calls the past two weeks since running back Kareem Hunt was abruptly released, but Mahomes supplied a late touchdown pass in each game and enters Thursday’s matchup with a league-leading 43 scoring strikes. Injuries are also a major concern for the Chiefs, who are uncertain about the status of wide receiver Tyreek Hill (foot) and expect to be without running back Spencer Ware (shoulder/hamstring). Hill torched the Chargers in the season opener with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown and two scoring passes from Mahomes, who also has passed for an NFL-high 4,300 yards. Kansas City’s defense ranks 30th in total yards and is last against the pass (281.8 yards).

EXTRA POINTS

1. Chiefs DE Chris Jones has at least one sack in nine consecutive games, the longest single-season streak since 1982.

2. Allen had eight catches for 108 yards and a TD in the Week 1 matchup.

3. Chiefs WR Kelvin Benjamin, claimed off waivers last week, is expected to make his Kansas City debut.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Complete AFC West Preview

Here is a look at what you can expect from the Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs this season…

Los Angeles Chargers

It seems like it happens every season: The Chargers get hot late in the year, and some pundit somewhere says, “Boy, I wouldn’t want to face the Chargers in the playoffs.” And then just like that, the Chargers miss the playoffs. And every year, the Chargers can painfully point to one or two games, or even one or two plays, that cost them a postseason berth.

Last year it was an ugly 0-4 start that ultimately doomed the Chargers, with kicking woes costing them dearly. But there was also the mind-numbing 20-17 overtime loss at Jacksonville in which the Chargers intercepted Blake Bortles twice inside of the final two minutes and still lost thanks to a penalty, a turnover of their own and then a game-winning kick by former teammate Josh Lambo.

So while winning six of their last seven games still gave them playoff hopes, they missed the postseason because they didn’t control their own destiny. That’s got to be foremost in QB Philip Rivers’ mind, as he’s seen that picture before and doesn’t want to repeat it yet again as his career winds down. That’s why winning the AFC West is paramount, with its guaranteed playoff berth, rather than putting their fate in the hands of the always-wild scramble for a Wild Card berth.

Kansas City Chiefs

Coming off consecutive AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history, the Chiefs remain contenders to win the division, but the rest of the division is looking stronger. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has to prove he can manage an NFL offense — protect the football, make good decisions and master coach Andy Reid’s verbiage-intense playbook — as well as Alex Smith did for five seasons. The Chargers, Broncos and Raiders all improved significantly on paper. With a first-year starter at quarterback and a retooled defense, the Chiefs face plenty of questions entering 2018. It remains a hopeful time for the Chiefs Kingdom, but Mahomes has a long way to go to live up to the hype.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders still have most of the key players who helped the team finish 12–4 two seasons ago. If QB Derek Carr gets back on track and new head coach Jon Gruden quickly gets back up to NFL coaching speed, then the Raiders should be able to contend for a playoff spot. Tennessee and Buffalo earned AFC Wild Card berths last season with nine wins apiece, giving the Raiders a reasonable goal to shoot for.

Denver Broncos

Can this team return to prominence, win an AFC West road game for the first time since Peyton Manning retired and finally boast a reliable offense? The key remains for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave ability to design an attack around QB Case Keenum’s skill set, keeping it simple with doses of creativity. Keenum has shown he can make big plays, but not if he’s throwing 30 times per game. Denver scares no one offensively, but that could change if the team becomes more physical up front and keeps its quarterback upright.

The body language of the defense slumped after every offensive turnover last season — 34 in all. The Broncos expect that figure to be sliced in half, or close to it.

Even with Keenum stabilizing the quarterback spot and the defense deeper, the Broncos face an uphill climb to .500. The sense of urgency is real, though. Every week will be a referendum on head coach Vance Joseph’s job and Keenum’s future.

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Posted in NFL