With the San Diego Chargers (5-1) riding high on a five-game winning streak, the Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) will attempt to knock down their AFC West division rival a peg or two when they travel to Qualcomm Stadium for a Sunday afternoon contest.
Kansas City has struggled of late against the Chargers, losing four straight and 11 of their past 14 meetings.
But the Chiefs should benefit from coming off a bye week. Andy Reid-led teams are 13-2 in games after the bye week in his career as an NFL head coach.
However, Kansas City lost after the bye week last season, 27-17 at Denver.
“It’s constant work because we lost the last one,” Reid said, when asked about his team’s success after the bye week. “So we’re always evaluating what we can do to be better in that area. Last year we weren’t very good, so we’ve got to get better.”
Sunday’s matchup also highlights the Brandon Flowers-Kansas City grudge match. Released by the Chiefs last June in a cost-cutting move, Flowers didn’t like it. And now he can do something about it twice this season, facing his former team for the first time.
Flowers suffered a groin injury against Oakland, so his availability for Sunday’s game is in question.
“If I’m not ready, I won’t be out there,” Flowers said. “If I’m out there, I’m ready.”
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:
Williams: Adam, after starting out the season 0-2, the Chiefs won two of their next three games heading into the bye week. What have been the reasons for the improved play?
Teicher: They’re a far better team than the way they played in the season opener in Tennessee. They looked lost, like they didn’t know which players to play or how to utilize them. No sense of urgency at all. They started to play better the next week at Denver, where their late rally fell a couple of yards short and they lost by a touchdown. The way the Chiefs have played since the opener is much closer to the real Chiefs than the way they played against Tennessee. They’ve figured out their strengths and weaknesses and try to play to those, particularly on offense.
Eric, the Chargers have the AFC’s best record but three of their wins came against some of the NFL’s weakest teams. Do you feel the Chargers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, or is the fast start more a function of their schedule?
Williams: That’s a fair question. The Chargers have played some of the bottom-feeders of the NFL. However, the win over Seattle was a sign of how good this team can be if everything is working well for it. The Chargers looked dominant in defeating the defending Super Bowl champs. They easily handled teams they were supposed to beat in Jacksonville and the New York Jets. And even though the Chargers did not play their best at Oakland, they did what good teams do in adverse situations -- find a way to win. If the Chargers can keep Philip Rivers upright and healthy, they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Adam, Travis Kelce looks like an emerging talent at tight end. He leads Kansas City in receptions (20), receiving yards (274) and receiving touchdowns (3). What makes him so productive?
Teicher: He’s 260 pounds but is fast -- wide receiver fast. In the preseason, he caught a pass over the middle and then outran a bunch of defensive backs to the end zone for a long touchdown. He runs good routes and catches the ball well, so put everything together and he can be tough to cover. The Chiefs had big plans for him last season, when he was a rookie. But he came down with a knee ailment during the preseason and never played an offensive snap all season. The Chiefs’ passing game would be lost if something similar happened now.
Eric, San Diego’s running game has picked up since Branden Oliver became the featured back. Give me a scouting report on Oliver and tell me why he’s been able to succeed where Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown didn’t.
Williams: Generously listed at 5-foot-8, Oliver is very elusive, which means San Diego’s offensive line does have to block plays perfectly for the undrafted rookie free agent to find a crease in the defense and spring loose. Oliver is hard for defenders to see behind San Diego’s offensive line, which works in his favor. And at 208 pounds, Oliver can run over defenders at the second level, and is hard to bring down because he’s so low to the ground. He’s a hard worker who quickly learned the offense, and adds a different dimension with his jitterbug running style. It will be interesting to see how the Chargers divide the carries when Brown and Mathews are both healthy again.
Adam, what’s your evaluation of how quarterback Alex Smith, a San Diego native, has played after receiving his new contract extension before the season started?
Teicher: Like many of his teammates, Smith has played better since the Tennessee game. He uncharacteristically tried to force a lot of passes that day and wound up throwing three interceptions. He’s thrown just one pick since and that was late in the game against San Francisco when the Chiefs were backed up deep and trying to rally. Where he’s failed this year is that he’s 0-of-2 in late fourth-quarter drives. The Chiefs failed to score a touchdown against the 49ers and the Broncos when each time when it could have won the game. Smith has not led a late-game rally for the Chiefs. He’s 0-for-4 including last season and that’s what needs to change.
Eric, Flowers is a question mark to play on Sunday because of a groin injury, but he’ll be back at some point. How has he fit in with the Chargers and how much credit does he deserve for the Chargers having one of the top pass defenses in the league?
Williams: Flowers has fit in well and exceeded expectations through the first six weeks of this season. He leads the team in interceptions, and according to defensive co-captain Eric Weddle has brought a level of professionalism to the defensive backfield room with his strong work ethic and knowledge of the game. Weddle says those characteristics are rubbing off on the rest of a young cornerback group, which includes first-round selection Jason Verrett. One last thing is Flowers has added a level of toughness, both mentally and physically. He’s a sure tackler in the run game, and as mentally prepared as they come. Flowers also has been willing to play different roles on the field, including special teams and slot defender in passing situations.