Chiefs (9-4) in charging stations (8-5)
When: 17:20 Thursday
Where: SoFi stadium
TV / Radio: Fox (ch. 11), NFL Network, Amazon; 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM / 94.3 FM (Spanish); Sirius 83
Line: Chiefs by 3 points
Notable injury symbols: Chargers: RB Austin Ekeler (questionable; ankle), S. Derwin James (questionable; hamstring), S.B. Asante Samuel Jr. (questionable; concussion), with Alohi Gilman (questionable; quads)
Chiefs: LB Willie Gay (departed; COVID), CB L’Jarius Sneed (departed; personal), OL Andrew Wiley (questionable; knee)
What’s at stake? The top spot for AFC West will be on the line Thursday night. If the Chargers manage to beat the Chiefs for the second time this season, they will move to the top spot in the division’s standings with a head-to-head tiebreaker. After that, the Chargers will have to hold the lead with the remaining games against the Houston Texans (2-11), the Denver Broncos (7-6) and the Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) to complete the regular season. The Chiefs have a tighter schedule, playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1), the Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) and the Broncos. But if the Chiefs win on Thursday, they have a dominant two-game three-game lead over the Chargers before the postseason.
Who is better? The Chiefs will enter SoFi on a six-game winning streak and have taken a defensive turn in the past month. The older teams held their last three opponents to nine points and did not allow them to score more than 17 points in six victorious games. Former Chargers edge Melvin Ingram has helped improve the Chiefs’ defenses since being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers last month. Chargers defender Justin Herbert has achieved sensational victories over the Bengals and New York Giants over the past two weeks. The chargers will also see the return of Keenan Allen’s wide receiver, who skipped last week because he tested positive for COVID-19. Executives will need quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his playmakers to break out of their funk and keep up with the Chargers’ assault.
Match to watch: Charging wide receiver Mike Williams vs. Secondary Chieftain. Williams has had his best performances against the Chiefs, including a 30-24 win in week three with seven receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Williams also had a memorable two-point conversion reception in his 2018 win against The Chiefs on Thursday night. Holding back Williams, who has 61 catches on 915 yards and seven touchdowns, will require a team effort from the Chiefs defenders.
Chargers benefit if: The short attack line gives Herbert enough time to attack. Trey Pipkins, now in his third year offensive, will start left tackle in place of rookie Rushon Slater, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Pipkins has fought for his eight career starts and will be one of three starting reserve offensive linemen, along with right-handed selector Storm Norton and right-back Michael Schofield. A thin offensive line doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should give Herbert enough time to break out of the pocket and save the game. The Chargers offensive clashed with the Denver Broncos in Week 12 when left-back Matt Feiler was eliminated with an ankle injury. They will have their forces against Ingram and Frank Clark, but they could catch a break due to the fact that Pro Bowl projectile Chris Jones was on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Fantastic sleeper: Opportunities will be limited for rookie successor Josh Palmer because Allen will return to the starting lineup, but expect the Chargers to keep his involvement. Palmer got the opportunity from what he did last week against the Giants, replacing Allen. Palmer knows how to play the slot and has shown that he is a reliable target near the line of battle. Herbert showed confidence in Palmer, especially in the third fall.
Forecast: The Chiefs have defended the AFC West champions five times, but the Chargers garnered the most attention because of Herbert and his spectacular performance. The Chiefs will be keen to show in prime time on television that Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelsey and receiver Tyric Hill are still the best attackers in the NFL. The Chargers prevailed over the Chiefs in the first leg, but the defending champions are awake to play 27-24 in the second leg.