Much has changed since last season for the Chargers: They have new home in Los Angeles, a new coaching staff led by first-time head coach Anthony Lynn, and they have not (yet) been ravaged by injuries as they were in 2016.
But not everything has changed. One season after losing eight games by seven points or fewer, the Chargers are again showing they can’t quite get over the hump. In Week 1, they rallied and appeared to tie Denver on a 44-yard field goal by rookie YoungHoe Koo, only to have the kick wiped out by a Broncos time out. The next try was blocked, and L.A. was 0–1. Last week, Koo missed a 43-yarder late in the first half but had a chance to redeem himself from 44 with nine seconds left in the game. He missed again, and the Chargers fell to the Dolphins, 19–17.
While Koo may be new, the issues that put him those pressure spots are not. While the Chargers have taken better care of the ball this season, a Philip Rivers interception in the opener led to a Denver touchdown as L.A. fell into a 17-point hole. Against Miami, some questionable clock management by Lynn kept the Chargers from possibly moving closer before Koo’s second miss. So obviously, not everything has changed for the Chargers.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is their division. While no one’s season is over at 0–2, it’s a bad place to be when everyone else in your division is 2–0. Falling three games behind the Chiefs — and possibly the Broncos and Raiders as well — is not something the Chargers want.
Kansas City at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Chiefs -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The suddenly explosive Chiefs
While Kansas City has never had a losing season under Andy Reid, it also has never finished a season ranked higher than 20th in the NFL in total offense. The Chiefs have traditionally relied on turnovers — ranking first or second in the NFL in turnover differential three times in the last four seasons — to make up for an average offense. But through two weeks, Kansas City ranks second in total offense and third in scoring. What’s changed? For starters, rookie running back Kareem Hunt (above, right) has exploded onto the scene with 355 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. He already has two carries of more than 50 yards and a 78-yard touchdown reception. For comparison, the entire Chiefs offense had only four play of 50 yards or more all of last season. Two of those belonged to speedy Tyreek Hill, and Kansas City’s effort to get the ball in his hands more has also been a factor. As a rookie, Hill was targeted about five times per game and caught 61 passes. The Chiefs are looking his way more (14 targets in two games), and he is on pace for nearly 90 catches. Counting the occasional handoff, Hill will likely get more than 100 touches on offense this season — and he is a threat to score on any of them.
2. Kansas City misses Eric Berry
Berry’s ruptured left Achilles tendon injury took some of the shine off of the season-opening win over New England. The All-Pro safety helped keep Rob Gronkowski in check before going down, and he was missed last week against the Eagles. The Chiefs gave up 333 yards passing to Carson Wentz, including 107 yards on passes to Philadelphia tight ends. Chargers tight ends Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates have combined for 11 catches on 14 targets so far this season as Rivers has looked more toward starting wideouts Keenan Allen (14 grabs on 20 targets) and Tyrell Williams (12 on 14). But both Gates and Henry are threats, and they could find more room to roam without Berry lurking for the Chiefs.
3. Smith’s last stand
A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has developed a reputation as a quarterback you can win with (he’s 62–25–1 as a starter since 2011) but not one you can win it all with (he’s 2–4 in the postseason). At 33, Smith looks to have gotten the message when the Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes III at the draft as their quarterback of the future. While Mahomes drew raves with some big plays in preseason, Smith is showing he’s not ready to be pushed aside yet. His 134.1 passer rating leads the NFL among passers who have played at least two games, and his 9.8 yards per attempt is in the top 5. It’s also nearly 2 yards per attempt better than his career high. Smith appears to have a lot of football left in him, even if many Chiefs fans are anxious to see what Mahomes has to offer.
The Chargers should certainly be the more desperate team, but the Chiefs can’t take a week off with a battle for playoff position with the Raiders and Broncos looming. Los Angeles may end up the best winless team in the NFL after this weekend, but it’s tough to pick them against a good team until they prove they can finish a game.