When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City TV: CBS
The San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs each need a victory in Sunday's game to get into the playoffs. The difference is the 9-6 Chargers don't need any help to get into the postseason. The Chargers would claim one of the AFC wild-card spots regardless of what happens in other games.
The 8-7 Chiefs need to win and then have favorable results in two other games. If the Chiefs win, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens, that wild-card spot goes to Kansas City.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers 23-20 in October in San Diego.
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Chargers reporter Eric Williams preview Sunday's game.
Williams: What does the loss of quarterback Alex Smith mean to the Chiefs?
Teicher: The loss of Smith wouldn’t help the Chiefs no matter when it happened, but the timing of the diagnosis of a lacerated spleen also hurts. Smith practiced two days this week, leaving only Friday for backup Chase Daniel. So not only are the Chiefs going with a quarterback who had taken only a handful of snaps and thrown one pass in two games but one who didn’t get many practice snaps. Daniel played well in the final game of the season last year, also against the Chargers, when the Chiefs rested Smith for the playoffs. He was 21-of-30 for 200 yards and a touchdown. The Chiefs missed a field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that would have won the game. The Chargers then won in overtime.
Philip Rivers looked fine to me last week against San Francisco, at least in the second half. How limited is he with regard to his back and rib injuries?
Williams: Good question. As you mentioned, Rivers struggled early against the San Francisco 49ers, but then caught fire in the second half and led the Chargers to an impressive comeback victory. Rivers did not practice on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, and the limited reps seemed to put him in better shape physically going into game day. I wouldn’t be surprised if San Diego’s medical staff takes a similar approach this week. Rivers has a high pain tolerance, and can play through a lot of stuff. But at some point Mike McCoy has to weigh how efficiently a banged-up Rivers can perform versus a healthy Kellen Clemens. An added bonus for Rivers has been San Diego’s offensive line, which protected him better the past two weeks. Rivers was sacked just twice in 54 passing attempts against San Francisco.
The Chiefs still have a chance to make the postseason, but need some help after losing at Pittsburgh. How do you think Kansas City players will respond mentally after a tough loss on the road?
Teicher: The Chiefs have had a tough road lately. Four of their past six games have been against teams already in the playoffs. I wonder how much they have left in the tank at this point. The Chiefs still can make the playoffs, though their chance to make the postseason isn’t good even if they beat the Chargers, but I still expect them to play with energy on Sunday. I think they’re fortunate this game will be played at Arrowhead instead of on the road and it’s against a division rival. Those factors should help the Chiefs.
In what ways have the Chargers changed, if any, since they lost to the Chiefs in October?
Williams: Defensively, the Chargers are much different. Linebackers Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o and Jeremiah Attaochu did not play in the first matchup. Ingram has been San Diego’s most effective pass-rusher since returning from the injured reserve/designated to return list after recovering from a hip issue in Week 11. Te’o is finally living up to his potential and making some splash plays. And Attaochu gives the Chargers another athletic body that can come off the edge. Since Week 10, the Chargers are tied for fifth in the NFL in red zone efficiency (36.4 percent), holding teams to an average of 21 points a contest.
Kansas City has lost four of its past five games, averaging just 18.6 points a contest during that stretch. What are the reasons for the Chiefs’ struggles on offense?
Teicher: The Chiefs don’t get many big pass plays, which is the root of their problem. The reasons for that are many. Pass protection has been mostly lousy. Smith was sacked six times last week in Pittsburgh and it’s not like the Steelers blitzed him much. They rushed four players on four of the sacks and three players on the other two. Receivers have struggled to get free from coverage and Smith had an affinity for checkdowns and other shorter routes. So opponents are lying in wait for Jamaal Charles and the running game and daring the Chiefs to do something they’ve had trouble with -- beating the defense with the deep ball.
What kind of season is Brandon Flowers having? Tough question here, but where do you suppose the Chargers might be right now if he hadn’t come along?
Williams: The Chargers are thankful to have Flowers this season. He’s been the team’s top cover corner, leading San Diego in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (13). Flowers has missed two games due to a groin injury and a concussion, but with first-round draft choice Jason Verrett out for the year after having shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum Flowers provides valuable leadership and production for a young cornerback group. His confidence and infectious energy has rubbed off on the rest of San Diego’s younger players. It’s safe to say San Diego would not be a win away from clinching a spot in the postseason without Flowers’ contribution. Flowers said he looks forward to playing in Kansas City against his former team for the first time.
What is your assessment of the job Andy Reid has done in his first two seasons with Kansas City?
Teicher: The program was in shambles when he walked in the door so I have to applaud not only the results but how quickly he was able to coax the Chiefs into achieving them. The Chiefs had been doing things the wrong way for a number of years but that abruptly changed when Reid and general manager John Dorsey arrived. The Chiefs have the look of a team that will challenge for a playoff spot for the foreseeable future. But the next step, and this is how Reid will ultimately be judged, is for the Chiefs to go deep into the playoffs and perhaps even make or win the Super Bowl. If he can’t eventually do that, his time with the Chiefs won’t and shouldn’t be viewed as a success.