LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (7-6) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (7-6)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:25 p.m. ET, Arrowhead Stadium. TV: NFLN, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl (field reporter).
Philip Rivers (17)
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-series meeting. Chiefs lead series, 59-54-1. The Chargers have fallen to the Chiefs seven straight times, which is the second-most all-time against their longtime AFC West rivals.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Six weeks ago, no one had this week’s Chargers-Chiefs matchup circled. The Chiefs were 5-0, the Chargers had just won for the first time this season. Nine weeks later, they are 7-6 and meet with the AFC West lead on the line.
To maintain their lead, the Chiefs will need to rely on the defense that held the Raiders scoreless for more than three quarters last week — not the one that gave up 38 points in a Week 13 loss to the Jets.
In the past two weeks, the Chiefs have gotten back to what helped them win the first five games: big plays. The Chiefs have scored 57 points in the past two games and have produced eight plays that covered at least 20 yards.
The Chargers, who have dug out of an 0-4 hole, are trying to become the first team since the 1992 Chargers to make the playoffs after that kind of start.
Philip Rivers, who has averaged better than 365 yards passing the past three weeks, will try to exploit the Chiefs’ No. 28 pass defense. Rivers will target his most important weapon, wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Allen, who has an otherworldly 12 catches for 136 yards over the past four weeks, will have to contend with the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters, who returns from a one-game suspension.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Chargers WR Keenan Allen vs. Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. The Chiefs held Allen to a pedestrian five catches for 61 yards in the Week 3 matchup as QB Philip Rivers turned the ball over three times. But the Chargers’ offense looks different than it did in September, with Allen being a key reason. Allen has averaged 137 yards on 10 catches during the last four games, all Chargers wins. The Chiefs smothered the Raiders’ passing game last week even with Peters suspended by coach Andy Reid.
–Chargers interior offensive line vs. Chiefs DL Chris Jones. The Chiefs’ defense turned in arguably its best effort of the season last Sunday against Oakland, and Jones was a big reason (sack and two QB hits). When the Chiefs collapse the pocket inside, that frees up edge rusher Justin Houston to apply pressure as well.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
–Questionable: CB Casey Hayward (calf)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
–Out: C Mitch Morse (foot/injured reserve)
–Questionable: LB Tamba Hali (knee), S Eric Murray (ankle), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (quadriceps)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs DL Jarvis Jenkins. The 29-year-old defensive lineman seems to be finding his groove during his second year in coordinator Bob Sutton’s defensive scheme. Jenkins played just 46 snaps during the first half of the season, but he averaged 25 snaps in the last four contests. Jenkins played a season-high 43 percent of the defensive snaps against Oakland. He picked up three tackles and a sack as the Chiefs spent most of the game in a dime package with just two defensive linemen. Jenkins brings energy and flexibility that relies heavily on a defensive line rotation. If the Chiefs again deploy a dime base against Rivers and the Chargers, expect to see more of Jenkins again.
FAST FACTS: Chargers QB Philip Rivers passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, in Week 14. In his past four games, he has 1,348 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. … RB Melvin Gordon had a rushing touchdown last week. He has three rushing touchdowns in the past two meetings. … WR Keenan Allen had 111 receiving yards in Week 14. He is the first Charger with four consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Wes Chandler in 1982. … DE Joey Bosa had a sack in the last meeting. He has nine sacks and four forced fumbles in his past nine games. … DE Melvin Ingram had three sacks in last game vs. Kansas City. … Rookie CB Desmond King had 10 tackles and a sack last week. … QB Alex Smith ranks second in the NFL with a 104.4 quarterback rating. He has six touchdowns vs. one interception in his past four games against division foes. … RB Kareem Hunt had 138 yards from scrimmage (116 rushing) with a rushing touchdown last week. He is one of two rookies in franchise history with 1,400 yards from scrimmage (1,435). … TE Travis Kelce has a touchdown in two of his past three games vs. division opponents. … WR/PR Tyreek Hill has three touchdowns (two receiving, one punt return) in his past three games against the Chargers. … LB Justin Houston had a sack in Week 14. He had four sacks and a forced fumble in his last home game vs. the Chargers. … CB Marcus Peters had an interception in the last meeting. Since entering the league in 2015, he has 17 interceptions and 51 passes defensed, both the most in the NFL.
PREDICTION: While the Chiefs appear to have righted the ship after their four-game losing streak, the Chargers are the team with momentum. Having Marcus Peters back helps the Kansas City pass defense, but no defenses have been able to slow Keenan Allen recently. Los Angeles can go from 0-4 to division leaders.