December 29, 2014 (doesn't mean anything)
Alex Smith is out. Chase Daniel will play again, just like he did in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers last season, when the Chiefs almost walked out of Qualcomm Stadium with a win and the knowledge that they've spoiled the season for their division rivals.
The outcome will not be the same, or if it is it will be coincidental. The Chargers do not always play down to their competition and they likely won't this time. The best explanation I can give for last season's near-loss is that the Chargers' started were playing their 16th game and were dead tired, going up against a bunch of backups looking to make a name for themselves and playing on fresh legs. That likely won't be the case this week, as Daniel will likely be playing with the starters.
Must Win Game
The Chiefs are still, technically, alive for the playoffs. To get in, they would need to beat the Chargers and then they'd need a lot of help. Tyler Thigpen (yes, that Tyler Thigpen) and the Cleveland Browns will need to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, and the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars will need to defeat the underrated Houston Texans. The chances of all three of those things happening is...not good.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have a lot riding on this game. If they win, they're in the playoffs. If they lose, they're (very likely) out. Their playoffs started last week against the 49ers, where they found a way to win despite almost killing their chances in the first quarter.
If I was trying to get into the head's of these players, I'd be much more motivated as a Chargers player. The end result is much more real. It's a playoff game, not a "win and hope for a miracle" game. I think they'll come out more focused than they have been all season.
John Pagano's defense
The Chiefs have the most amazing stat going in the entire league this season. Despite Alex Smith's 18 touchdown passes this season, not a single one of them has been to a WR. Every single TD reception for Kansas City this season has been by a RB or a TE.
The Chargers, especially with their current crop of injuries, are susceptible to teams that have great receivers. They won't have to worry about that from the Chiefs. Instead, the focus will be on San Diego's safeties and front-7, who have played pretty well in the last month or two.
This will likely turn into a game where Pagano is giving up FGs with his defense, while Reich is scoring TDs with his. That could, and should, end up being the key to victory.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.