It’s Week 15 of the NFL season and things are starting to get interesting. Playoff scenarios abound, with so many teams still vying to be one of the 14 playoff teams. In fact, this season has offered so much competitive parity that after week 14, for just the third time in the last nearly 45 years, no team has clinched its postseason berth. That is especially true in the AFC West, where the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers will battle it out on Thursday night (8:20 PM ET; TV: Live on Fox) for first place in the division.
Right now, both teams are sitting in playoff position, but only one will win the division and potentially have a path to home-field advantage throughout the postseason. A win by the Chiefs would put them up two games in the division, fully in control of their destiny from here on out. But a win by the Chargers would put them in the divisional lead on account of the head-to-head record with Kansas City this year. The division is still very much up for grabs. Let’s take a look at how these teams match up in advance of their final regular-season meeting of the season with our preview, predictions and betting picks.
The date was September 26th, the third week of the NFL season. The Los Angeles Chargers were just coming off a nail-biting loss to the Dallas Cowboys while the Kansas City Chiefs were fresh off an equally heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Both teams were 1-1 on the season. Both were also playing their first divisional game as the Chiefs opened up with back-to-back contests against the AFC North and the Chargers, with back-to-back games against the NFC East.
There wasn’t really much we knew about either team and where their seasons would go at that point. Both the Chiefs and Chargers had won against slightly above average teams and both lost against teams who would turn out to be division leaders after week 14. Coming into this match-up, it was really anyone’s guess which team would emerge on top. The game was being played in Arrowhead, where the Chiefs have not lost a game in the Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes era so the bettors’ money was with Kansas City.
As loud as Arrowhead was that day, Justin Herbert and the Chargers didn’t seem to be fazed. The second-year QB was poised, and after a scoreless first quarter by both teams, Herbert got the Chargers on the board first with a pair of touchdowns, first to Keenan Allen, and then to Austin Ekeler. The Chiefs finished the half with a Harrison Butker field goal as time expired, going into the third quarter down 14-3. That’s when the scoring really began. Mahomes and the Chiefs struck back with a pair of their own touchdowns to Jody Fortson and then Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Going into the fourth, Kansas City was up by three but it didn’t take long for the Chargers to erase that deficit. They scored on their first drive of the quarter. The Chiefs fired back with a touchdown drive of their own, but after that, and with just under seven minutes left in the game, it was all LA. The Chargers tied the game with just over two minutes remaining, and then, thanks to a gutsy fourth-down call, managed to win the game with just over 30 seconds in regulation. It was pretty clear that the Chargers did not want to go to overtime, at Arrowhead, and risk the chance of giving Mahomes the ball one more time. The call paid off and because of that, the Chargers have the opportunity to sweep the Chiefs for the first time in eight seasons.
For Kansas City, that game wasn’t just one loss. It put the Chiefs at 1-2 on the season and started what could have been a disastrous skid as Kansas City went 3-4 to start the year. Meanwhile, the Chargers were 4-3 after their first seven games. Neither team was running away with the division. The Chargers would ebb and flow a bit over their next six games to ultimately bring their record to where it sits now, 8-5.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, have not lost a game since their fourth loss to the Tennessee Titans. Understanding the gravity of their situation, KC cleaned up a lot of what had been plaguing them. The team that turned the ball over four times in the loss to LA, has now been one of the better ball-handling units in all of the NFL. While it may sound like a cliché, it’s tried and true. If you protect the ball and have a better turnover differential than your opponent, you will probably win the football game. The Chiefs learned that the hard way, but have since been firing on all cylinders.
Our Betting Preview’s Kansas City Chiefs vs LA Chargers Predictions & Picks Verdict
The AFC is so bundled right now as all of the top 10 teams are separated by just two games. That means there is plenty of intrigue left this season as every game will have some kind of impact on the playoff race. The Chiefs and Chargers find themselves in a great position. Trying to chase down the New England Patriots for that top seed, Thursday’s game will definitely serve as a deciding factor in the AFC postseason chase. Here are some things to look out for:
Clyde Edwards Helaire has been on fire since he returned. Helaire was a big part of the Chiefs’ offense in the first game against the Chargers as he rushed for 100 yards and had a receiving touchdown as well. Since Helaire returned from injury three weeks ago, he’s picked up right where he’s left off with three rushing touchdowns in three games.
Helaire adds balance to an offense that has always relied on its passing game. KC has the fourth-ranked offense in football right now as they have weapons at every position. It is worth noting that with all the success, Mahomes is still having an uncharacteristic down year. He has taken care of the football better and limited turnovers (the team is averaging just one a game during the winning streak) but he only has two passing touchdowns in the last three games. The Chiefs will need more out of him against the Chargers though as it’s definitely a tougher matchup than KC has been facing.
The Chargers boast the league’s sixth-best offense and one that actually is averaging more passing yards per game than Kansas City. Herbert has been the antithesis of Mahomes of late, throwing 11 touchdowns in four games to help keep the Chargers in this AFC West race. It is a recent stretch that has also seen LA outscore and outgain KC, something that could come into play in another shoot-out this Thursday.
This game may well come down to one play, one mistake. The Chiefs have had two defensive touchdowns in the last three weeks. If they can pressure Herbert, they may get their third. The Chargers also have potential as while the defense is average at best, they did force KC to four turnovers in their last meeting.
So how do we conclude our betting predictions? Well, these are the picks for this preview:
- Expect this one to be close, which means not taking KC to cover at -3 points with the USA online bookies. This game may end with a field goal or a missed one given both teams’ kicking woes so take the Chargers +3pts @ -105 with Bovada (-108 with BetOnline) in case of a field goal push.
- As for the total, it’s set at 52 points, the highest such total of the week. That said, we’re still advising the over @ -110 with Bovada or BetOnline as these teams can and will score often if their first meeting and top offenses are any indications.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.