- The league’s best young thrower and one of its most unorthodox and accomplished face each other on Thursday night in a matchup with major postseason implications. Andy Benoit’s three factors that will decide the game.
Previewing Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs AFC West showdown at Arrowhead Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox, NFL Network, APrime Video).
Playoff implications: A win by Kansas City (11-2) would put the Chiefs in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Chargers (10-3) victory would even the teams’ records, but the Chiefs would maintain the division and conference lead by virtue of the tiebreaker. If the Chargers win out and the Chiefs fall to either the Seahawks or Raiders in their last two games, L.A. would earn the top seed. Andy Benoit’s three factors for Thursday night:
1. For most of this decade we have regarded Aaron Rodgers as the most talented pure thrower in football, if not history. But is it time to consider Patrick Mahomes here? Understand: This isn’t saying Mahomes is better than Rodgers. (Even though this season Mahomes unequivocally has been.) We’re just talking the pure act of throwing the ball. Rodgers has been mesmerizing because he can fire fastballs and bombs from so many different platforms. He’s one of the select few for whom the rules of fundamentals do not apply. But so is Mahomes. Like Rodgers, he can throw without his feet helping out. Mahomes’s release is just as quick as Rodgers’, and it can be employed from a greater variety of arm angles. The only gripe with Mahomes is that he’s not yet quite a consistent down-to-down thrower. He misses on a few balls each game—but lately, so has Rodgers (perhaps as a byproduct of his Week 1 knee injury). And it should be noted that Mahomes’ misses have been fewer and farther between in recent weeks. Out of respect for his body of work, we’ll let Rodgers keep the title of World’s Best Thrower. But Mahomes is gaining on him.
2. As mentioned in Monday’s Extra Point column, Philip Rivers will never be regarded as one of the best at throwing because he looks so ugly doing it. But in terms of ball placement, few match the 37-year-old, who, on a related note, has become the league’s greatest anticipation passer. Most of Rivers’ best anticipation throws come outside the field numbers. Those throws will be heavily featured on Thursday night, as Kansas City’s up-and-down perimeter corners Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick will have their hands full with L.A.’s oversized stud receivers.
3. Quietly, Kansas City’s Eric Fisher has become one of the steadiest left tackles in football. The Chiefs should be comfortable with him blocking the laterally explosive but somewhat inconsistent Melvin Ingram one-on-one. The question is at right tackle. Mitchell Schwartz is one of the game’s best, but lately he has struggled against inside moves. Last year the Chargers went after the right side of Kansas City’s offensive line with blitz looks that created opportunities for Joey Bosa. That’d be a great tactic on Thursday, not just because Bosa is thriving and should be given as many opportunities as possible, but also because Chargers rookie safety Derwin James is a blitzing dynamo. Threatening a blitz with James and then actually following through is L.A.’s best chance against Mahomes.
Bottom Line: If Travis Kelce has over 90 yards receiving, Kansas City will win. If it’s under, L.A. wins. Kelce will be guarded by James in man coverage, and he’s likely to see top Chargers corner Casey Hayward on third down if it’s zone coverage. Hayward often plays on the short side of the field (a.k.a. the “boundary side”), which is where the Chiefs like to align Kelce in three-receiver sets.
Score: Chiefs 34, Chargers 31
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