The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers will square off in Mexico City for an AFC West showdown to wrap up Week 11 action in the NFL on "Monday Night Football." And there will be far more than bragging rights at stake when these division rivals meet for the first of two matchups this season.
Following a 4-0 start to the season, Kansas City appeared destined to cruise to its fourth straight AFC West title. Fast forward to the present, and you find a 6-4 Chiefs team that has lost four of its last six games, desperately trying to stay on top in the division. Their most recent setback came in the form of a 35-32 loss to the Titans on the road, despite a monster performance from Patrick Mahomes in his highly anticipated return from a dislocated kneecap. Kansas City will now attempt to rebound against a resilient Chargers squad. If that doesn't happen, it could spell the end of their season-long reign atop the AFC West, assuming the Raiders take care of business against the Bengals.
The Chargers appeared to have turned the corner following back-to-back wins against the Bears and Packers. However, a 26-24 road loss to Oakland last week on "Thursday Night Football" proved to be a major setback. A setback that has ultimately cost the Bolts an opportunity to take the division lead for themselves on Monday night. Nevertheless, the 4-6 Chargers still find themselves within striking distance of both the Chiefs and the Raiders. But it will take a victory in Mexico City to keep hope alive. A loss would put the Chargers three games back with just five games remaining, all but mathematically eliminating them.
Kansas City leads the all-time series with a record of 61-56-1 dating back to 1960. The Chiefs and Chargers split a pair of games last season with each team winning on the road. In their final meeting of 2018 in Week 15, the Chargers scored a thrilling 29-28 victory in Kansas City to snap a nine-game losing streak to the Chiefs.
Kansas City vs. Los Angeles
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 18 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Where: Estadio Azteca (Mexico City)
Spread: Chiefs -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Chiefs' passing game vs. the Chargers' pass defense
After missing two games with a dislocated kneecap, Patrick Mahomes wasted no time in returning to elite form against the Titans last week — albeit in a losing effort. The reigning NFL MVP completed 72 percent of his attempts for 446 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. And just like any game that involves the Chiefs, all eyes will once again be on Mahomes and the high-octane Kansas City passing attack on Monday night.
So, how do Mahomes and company stack up against the Chargers? First and foremost, the Kansas City offense stacks up well against any defense that you put in front of them. However, there will be some challenges to overcome in this matchup. For starters, the Chargers boast the fifth-ranked pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 207 yards per game. They rarely get beat deep, and they have one of the top cornerbacks in the league in Pro Bowler Casey Hayward to help contend with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson. The Chargers' track record against All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce speaks for itself — Kelce has never recorded a touchdown catch or eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in 10 career games against them. The Bolts also feature one of the best pass-rush duos in the NFL in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who have combined for seven sacks over their last three games alone.
Now for the good news if you're a Chiefs fan. Despite the Chargers' lofty ranking in terms of overall passing yards allowed, they rank just 31st in the NFL in completion percentage allowed (71.7), 25th in opposing passer rating (100.5), and 25th in yards per attempt (7.8). Hayward could be a factor. However, Hayward can only cover one player at a time, and he has been torched by Hill on more than one occasion in past meetings. As for Bosa and Ingram, they do pose a threat. But the Chiefs have held up well in pass protection, allowing just 18 sacks in 10 games. And the healthy return of offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif this week should help tremendously in that regard.
2. Will Philip Rivers bounce back from a woeful Week 10?
Just one look at the stat sheet, and it paints a pretty clear picture of an up-and-down season for the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback. While Rivers leads the NFL with 2,816 passing yards, his 14 touchdown passes don't even crack the top 10. And only two NFL quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Rivers (10) so far this season. Unfortunately, last week's performance against the Raiders was arguably his worst of the season. Rivers tossed a season-high three picks and recorded a season-low passer rating of 57.5. Of course, Rivers can't shoulder all the blame, as a beat-up offensive line failed to offer much protection, giving up five sacks and 11 QB hits on the night.
Rivers will have some obstacles to overcome in Week 11 as well. Chief among them will be a Kansas City pass rush that has racked up 30 sacks on the season (fifth-most in the NFL). Taking into consideration the Chargers' struggles in pass protection last week, and the fact that they could be down both starting offensive tackles this week, Rivers will probably have a tough row to hoe again on Monday night. The Chiefs also feature the eighth-best pass defense in the league, surrendering 221 yards per game through the air.
That being said, Rivers rarely flops in back-to-back fashion. And it will be a real challenge for the Chiefs to keep tabs on the many weapons that Rivers has at his disposal, namely wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Hunter Henry. It won't be easy, but the crafty veteran quarterback will probably find a way to bounce back with a solid performance.
3. The Chargers' run game vs. the Chiefs' run defense
The Chargers have certainly had their difficulties running the ball this season. It started with running back Melvin Gordon sitting out the first four games of the season with a contract dispute. The struggle grew worse upon his return, as Gordon failed to post more than 32 rushing yards in any of his first four games back. Meanwhile, Austin Ekeler spent most of that time catching passes out of the backfield. But that was all under the direction of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who was fired prior to Week 9.
In the two games since quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen has taken over as OC, the Chargers have run for 305 yards, almost doubling their season average. Gordon seems to have found his mojo as well, with 188 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground with Steichen calling the plays. The question is — can the Chargers keep their new-found success in the run game rolling on Monday night against the Chiefs?
Conditions are certainly favorable. The Kansas City defense currently ranks 31st in the NFL against the run, allowing 148 rushing yards per game. And the Chiefs' inability to consistently stop the run is a glaring weakness that has played a significant role in each of their four losses this season. That includes last week against Derrick Henry and the Titans, who torched them for 225 yards and two scores on the ground.
The Chiefs did find a way to hold Dalvin Cook and a potent Vikings ground game under 100 yards as recently as Week 9, and if they can regain that form, they should be fine. Otherwise, it could be a long night against the surging Chargers' ground attack.
While this is a crucial game for both teams, it is a must-win for the Chargers. That's exactly why they spent the week in Colorado Springs preparing for Estadio Azteca, which sits at an altitude of 7,200 feet above sea level. That could give them a leg up, along with having 10 days to rest up and prepare for this matchup. It's also likely that there will be a stronger contingent of Charger fans in Mexico City than we have seen at any point this season in Los Angeles. And the Chargers have the luxury of facing a Chiefs defense that hasn't really stopped anyone in a very long time.
That being said, it could be an even taller order for the Chargers' defense to contain Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense on Monday night. Kansas City also does a much better job of taking care of the football. The Chiefs are plus-two in turnover margin, which is a much better showing than the Chargers (-5). And with all six of the Chargers' losses this season coming by seven points or less, they seem to have a knack for finding creative ways to lose close games. This game should come down to the wire, which is why the Chiefs will come away victorious in Mexico City to stay on top in the AFC West.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Chargers 28
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.