The Kansas City Chiefs are 14-1 and have clinched home-field advantage for the road to Super Bowl LV, resulting in them benching some starters, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in this Week 17 clash with the Los Angeles Chargers. This means that on Sunday, Chad Henne will get his first start since Week 2 of 2014! You can expect the majority of the Chiefs' major weapons to sit as well, especially Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Le'Veon Bell, along with a few major defensive starters.
The Chargers likely will keep Justin Herbert in for this game, however, giving them a huge quarterback advantage with the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year winner facing a greatly weakened Chiefs team on both sides of the ball. The Chargers will miss a couple of major pieces, notably wide receiver Keenan Allen and edge defender Joey Bosa, but they will still have more of their starters and more of their key pieces than the Chiefs.
Fact to Know: Justin Herbert has been deadly on third down this season.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has been pretty good on first and second down this year, but where he has shined most this season is on third down. On third down, Herbert has added 47.9 expected points. The only quarterback who has added more this season is Patrick Mahomes with 61.3 EPA. Aaron Rodgers has the best EPA per play on third downs this season, but has only had 100 third-down dropbacks with a 10-90% win probability while Mahomes has had 133 and Herbert has had 147, the most in the NFL.
Herbert is still dangerous on first down and second down as he ranks 16th in first down EPA+CPOE composite score (0.133) and eighth in Total EPA on second down (49.9 Total EPA on 182 second down dropbacks), but he's been best when it matters most.
Matchup to Watch: Mike Danna vs. Sam Tevi
This is a fun one! Mike Danna, the Chiefs' rookie fifth-round pick, has had some really nice moments this season as the Chiefs' fourth edge defender behind Frank Clark, Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor. Danna has 10 defensive stops, 13 pressures and three sacks, which is not too bad for a rookie with 273 total snaps and 153 pass-rushing snaps.
Danna plays the majority of his snaps as the right edge defender, so we can assume with that that he will mostly go against the Chargers' left tackle. The traditional starting left tackle for the Chargers is Sam Tevi, who has played almost every snap for LA this season outside of Week 13 and has been their starting left tackle for the last three seasons. Tevi has always been one of the greatest weaknesses on the Chargers' offensive lines since he joined the team, allowing a league-most 73 pressures in 2018 and allowing 40 and 33 pressures in the last two seasons respectively. It would be nice to see Danna get some quality production in a big role for a game, and Tevi is a left tackle that he can do it against.
Key to the Game: How well can Chad Henne run the offense in his first start in over six years?
Chad Henne's last start was on Week 2 of the 2014 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars as they went up against Washington. Henne dropped back 41 times and only attempted 28 passes, as he was sacked 10 times, had one batted pass and scrambled twice. That should be a good indicator that the blocking for him was not very good. Hopefully, this Sunday's offensive line effort will have better results.
The potential for a solid Henne start is there, as the Chiefs have seen some strong backup quarterback performances in recent memory, thanks in part to the system and weapons.
Matt Moore played a major role in three games last year and did quite well, helping win the games at Denver and against Minnesota while also helping keep the Chiefs competitive against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers. Moore played adequate football all around for a backup, racking up 659 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the three games.
Before that, there was Patrick Mahomes' first career start in Week 17 against the Broncos in Denver after Alex Smith helped clinch the division title and the AFC's three-seed for the Chiefs in Week 16. There was a ton of anticipation for that game, and it was truly a moment I will never forget. Mahomes threw dime after dime with the Chiefs' backup offense against the Broncos' starting defense at Mile High and led them to a wild 27-24 victory which was capped off by an incredible game-winning drive from Mahomes and a Harrison Butker 30-yard field goal as time expired.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Chiefs 17
Here you go. This is the second time all season that I have predicted the Chiefs to lose (the other being the Ravens game in Week 3) and, shockingly, a multi-score loss. This would be the first time in the last 61 games that the Chiefs would lose by more than eight points, with the last one being a 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 of the 2017 season, a game that Chiefs fans only really remember for this play. Thankfully, we would still have the reality of Patrick Mahomes never having lost by more than eight points. I think Justin Herbert takes advantage of this greatly-weakened Chiefs team and makes some major highlights in this one. I think that there are some nice moments for Chiefs fans to watch, but nonetheless, I have the Chiefs finishing the regular season with a loss to push them to 14-2 as the road to back-to-back Super Bowls gets into crunch time.