Chargers Football is back!
For the last three years, I’ve predicted the Chargers to finish with a 10-6 record. In the first two of those, they made it to 9 wins. Combined. However, a 9-7 record last year after an 0-4 start lends a lot of reasons to be optimistic, and we’re feeding into that optimism with three reasons the Chargers will beat the Chiefs on Sunday:
#1: The Chiefs defense is a big weakness
Here’s the Kansas City Chiefs depth chart heading into the season opener:
All offseason, people have been ridiculing the Chiefs defense, using their perceived weakness as a way to drive home their point. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “the Chiefs may need to score 35 points just to stay in a game this year!” I’d be able to buy the damn team myself.
Point is: This is a bad, bad defense. There are a few exceptions: Xavier Williams is excellent against the run, Chris Jones has the potential to make life difficult for opposing teams, and Kendall Fuller is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league. Realistically, however, this is one of the weakest defenses the Chargers will play all year, if not the weakest. There’s a whole lot of replacement level talent starting, and not a lot of... well, genuine talent. Eric Berry is one of the best safeties in the league when he plays, but he hasn’t practised all week with a heel injury, and isn’t expected to suit up for this one.
Eric Berry “probably won’t” play Sunday against Chargers according to Andy Reid. Will be listed as doubtful on injury report.— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) September 7, 2018
The Chiefs defense were bad last year, but with the loss of Marcus Peters (and I understand why they traded him), they’re looking like taking another step backwards. That’s great news for a Chargers team hoping to snap a four year losing streak against Kansas City on Sunday.
#2: The Chiefs CBs vs Chargers WRs
The Chiefs do have one genuinely talented CB, as Kendall Fuller (as aforementioned) is one of the best slot CBs in the league. However, it’s rumoured that the Chiefs are going to look to use him outside this year, rather than just exclusively in the slot. With that in mind, I think it’s possible that Bob Sutton might use Kendall Fuller to shadow Keenan Allen this week, with #13 looking set to play a mixture of slot and outside WR this season.
Shadowing the opposing #1 isn’t usually Bob Sutton’s style - he kept Marcus Peters on one side of the field, rather than match him up specifically - but when the other two starting CBs on the Chiefs are Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick, he may have his hand forced. If Allen draws Nelson or Scandrick for most of the day, he could easily grab 15 passes for 150 and a couple of TDs. There are very few CBs capable of going one-on-one with Keenan Allen, and Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick are nowhere near.
Even if Fuller is able to erase Allen for most of the day - and, spoiler alert, he won’t be - Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams have to like their chances against two mediocre, smaller CBs (Nelson is listed at a generous 5’11 and Scandrick at a probably accurate 5’10).
Philip Rivers was awful against the Chiefs last year, but Marcus Peters was the root cause of that. Without Peters to torment Rivers, he should be in line for a big day come Sunday.
#3: Patrick Mahomes is still getting used to the NFL
If you aren’t sure of the context, I guess it would be fair to say I was fairly high on Patrick Mahomes coming out of Texas Tech.
Watching Keke Coutee 2016 tape just so you can watch Patrick Mahomes one more time >>>— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) March 6, 2018
Commandment #1: Thou shalt have no other Gods. Anyone who does not turn their head to Mahomes is a sinner, and deserves nothing but hatred.— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) May 6, 2017
Everyone here getting hyped for the return of NFL? I just want to see them cut to Mahomes on the sideline— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) September 7, 2017
I could see Mahomes as a Cardinal. I'm just praying he doesn't end up a Chief— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) April 6, 2017
Then the worst happened, and I didn’t want to accept fate:
I just had a horrible dream that Patrick Mahomes was a Chief. Scary stuff. Anyway...— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) May 5, 2017
30 days until the NFL Draft. Patrick Mahomes is elite.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t a dream. Mahomes really is a Chief, and he’s just been given the keys to the franchise. I (unsurprisingly) think he’s going to be really good - probably a Hall of Famer by the time he hangs up his cleats - and I don’t foresee the terrible start for Mahomes this year that other analysts may do (but I wouldn’t, would I?)
If there was a good time to play Mahomes, however, Week 1 in his first ‘meaningful’ NFL action is pretty perfect. There’s naturally going to be some nerves, and it’s going to take some time for him to fully click with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce in a real game, despite the highlights you’ve seen from preseason.
It’s hard to know whether Mahomes is going to come out slinging like only he can, or whether he’s going to keep things safe in an attempt to ease himself into the game and the NFL in general. Regardless of what the plan is early on, the Chiefs are likely going to need some big plays from Mahomes at some point with the state of their defense, and that means he’s going to have to take some chances.
Mahomes was superb in college at taking chances, but at this level the defenders are smarter, quicker, and better. Joey Bosa might be out, but Melvin Ingram is still there to rush the passer, and Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams and Desmond King aren’t going to make life easy for the Chiefs WRs downfield. Mahomes is going to (hopefully) take some time to learn what he can no longer get away with at this level, and the Chargers are lucky enough to be the team that get to teach him first. I hope Mahomes has a notebook ready.