The AFC West resides in Kansas City’s hands and, regardless of what happens on Sunday, the Chiefs will still be in the driver’s seat come Monday morning. With a two-game lead on the rest of the division, and two of the final four games against those second place chasers, the Chiefs path to the postseason is clear.
Sunday’s meeting with the Chargers is (has Todd Haley has said numerous times before) the Chiefs biggest game of the season to date. It’s time to Take Five.
1) The Quarterback
Kansas City’s quarterback situation has dominated the storylines since Wednesday.
What would a Croyle start mean for Kansas City? The Chiefs have said that their offensive system will remain the same and that Cassel and Croyle both carry similar quarterback traits. At the same time, no two players are the same. How would a switch at quarterback alter the play-calling? Would the Chiefs play more conservative? Would they take more deep shots behind Croyle’s big arm? What about showing a new wrinkle in the running game?
Exactly how the Chiefs quarterback situation unfolds is what everyone will be watching.
2) Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes
Just how does a team with the NFL’s top-ranked defense (281.5 yards per game) and second-ranked offense (397.4 yards per game) find itself with a .500 record through 12 games? That’s easy, mistake-prone football.
Despite their gaudy offensive and defensive numbers the Chargers have been miserable in allowing special teams scores. They also lead the NFL in lost fumbles and are among the league leaders in negative plays. As a result, San Diego is 1-4 in games decided by seven points or less. Those turnovers, fouls and big plays all add up and it’s bitten the Chargers in 2010.
In the first meeting between the two teams, special teams play and defensive takeaways helped give the Chiefs a seven-point victory.
3) Carve ‘Em Up
Behind 251 rushing yards, Oakland cruised to a 28-13 upset victory in San Diego last weekend. The Raiders run game helped the Chiefs build a two-game lead in the division race and exposed holes in the Chargers front as well. This week, it’s the NFL’s top-ranked run game that’s coming to town.
Oakland’s run game was the key to its success in So Cal, and the rush won’t be any less important for the Chiefs either. Gashing the Chargers helped make San Diego’s offense one-dimensional. An early lead and clock-grinding drives ultimately factored in the Chargers finishing with just eight rushes for 21 yards. Oakland’s offense helped its defense by forcing Phillip Rivers to become one-dimensional. Time of possession is critical this weekend. The Chiefs have the tools to control the game on the ground, but will they execute?
4) Keep It Close
As mentioned above, the Chargers are 1-4 this season in games decided by seven points or less. Fighting an early San Diego surge is a must for the Chiefs.
The circumstances surrounding this game makes San Diego an even more dangerous opponent. The Chargers are playing for their playoff lives in front of their home crowd in a do-or-die scenario. A Kansas City win would eliminate San Diego from the AFC West race, likely putting an end to any postseason hopes as well. The Chargers should come out emotionally charged and it will be a challenge for the Chiefs to match San Diego’s aggression while also playing smart football.
5) Linebackers and Safeties
Though he’s officially listed as questionable this weekend, Chargers All-Pro TE Antonio Gates has told the San Diego media that he will play on Sunday. If that’s accurate, Kansas City’s linebackers and safeties become a critical part of the Chiefs pass defense.
Gates has historically turned in solid games against the Chiefs and, of course, poses mismatches against linebacker and safeties. Gates is a player that forces a young secondary to grow up quickly and the Chiefs will have plenty of youngsters in coverage on Sunday. Some Chiefs learned about Gates the hard way earlier this season on Monday Night Football.