KICKOFF: Monday, 10:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler, Trent Dilfer)
PREDICTION: Chargers 34-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: The difference between the top of the AFC West with the Chargers and the bottom of the division with the Chiefs was never more evident than during the 2009 season when San Diego won both matchups, once by 30 points and the next time by 29 points.
The common denominator in those games was the inability of the Chiefs defense to stop the Chargers offense. They allowed 403 and 426 yards in the two games, as QB Philip Rivers threw five touchdown passes. The K.C. defense forced just one turnover and did not have a sack.
FAST FACTS: The Chargers have won three in a row at Arrowhead Stadium, winning by 14, 1 and 30 points. The last time the Chiefs beat the Chargers at home was on a last-second field goal by Lawrence Tynes in 2006. ... Since the Chargers have become the dominant team in the AFC West, the Chiefs have struggled to beat them. San Diego has won five of the last six division titles, starting in 2004.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Chargers head to America's heartland to get a beat on their 2010 season. They open against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, giving them a chance to not only show they're ready for prime time but to prove their coach correct.
"I would believe that this group has a chance to be the best team I've coached as a head coach," the Chargers' Norv Turner said.
That's a gutsy comment from a coach who has overseen three dangerous and talented Chargers teams, all of which won the AFC West title and then fell short in the playoffs.
But is this team better than those?
While the Chargers are loaded with offensive weapons, there are enough red flags flapping in the San Diego breeze to think Turner has been out in the sunshine too long.
Better than last year's 13-3 team which won 11 straight games?
Better than the 2008 squad which won a playoff game?
Better than the 2007 edition which reached the AFC title contest?
Does different translate into better, because the Chargers are different.
There is no more LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Jamal Williams, Kassim Osgood, Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill.
The latter two never signed; the others were shown the door.
Now the NFL gets to see what the new-look Chargers can offer.
"I feel very confident in what we're going to able to do," quarterback Philip Rivers said.
The Chargers' offense is loaded -- first-round pick Ryan Mathews could supply a boost to a running game which was AWOL last year.
But it will be missing its biggest downfield threat in Jackson. And it is absent the most critical blocker at the left tackle, McNeill.
On defense, where will the pass rush come from?
Shawne Merriman has practiced only a handful of times this summer. Larry English, last year's top pick, had four sacks his rookie year and made little impact. Shaun Phillips could supply it, but he's seen more as a complementary player than a star.
The Chargers, even with their blemishes, have the potential to be a dynamite team. But the best team since Turner took over here in 2007?
That remains to be seen, but we'll know more after Monday night in what could be a trap in one of the NFL's loudest stadiums.
"It's a very, very difficult place to play," Turner said.
But the Chargers, who went a franchise-best 7-1 on the road last year, are ready.
There are the head coaches who are building for the future who sometimes never see the future because they forgot one important factor in retaining their jobs -- they must win. That creates a predicament when chopping the roster to the league limit of 53 players, what's more important -- players who can contribute now, or developmental players who are a year or two or maybe more away from carrying their own weight?
Todd Haley wants both. Todd Haley knows he needs both. Starting with the team's Monday night opener against the San Diego Chargers, Todd Haley has to have both for his continued employment as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Here's Haley on the idea of the players must produce now:
"What I've been telling these guys from day one, and that includes just now when we ended practice, is we need you now; we don't need you tomorrow, we don't need you next week, we don't need you next year. In my mind I want to put the best team out there every week, whatever that is."
So does that mean Haley has turned into a modern day George Allen, who as a head coach of the Rams and Redskins lived by the motto that "the future is now"?
Here's what Haley had to say about that:
"I don't think that's the headline that I want because that's not what it is. The name of the game is to continue to infuse talent into a team to create competition and then from that point to develop the players that you already have here. We need to be developing players from the coaching staff perspective -- getting those players ready each and every day to improve and be better and help us. I would say that model hasn't changed. We're just trying to get better."
Confused? Welcome to the world of an NFL head coach working with a team at the bottom of the league's ladder. Coming off a 4-12 season in his rookie experience as head coach, Haley knows there can be no more of those seasons. But he also knows he's been hired to develop a team that will be good for a number of seasons, not just 2010. He must build a team that will challenge San Diego for the top spot in the division that the Chargers have held for the last five years.
"You have to have players developing," Haley said. "You need front-line players becoming Pro Bowl players, you need second-line players that are trying to move into the front line, you need role players to continue to improve, you need special teams players. That has to go on -- development of your players."
Haley has said he's not handing out redshirt seasons; he needs contributions from his No. 1 player all the way through No. 53, whoever that might be. "I don't know who they are but No. 51, 52, 53, don't thank me, just show me that we're right," said Haley.
Head coaches do not get redshirt seasons. Some could point to the Chiefs' 2009 season and say Haley was unprepared to be an NFL head coach. True or not, what isn't debatable is this -- his record as an NFL head coach is 4-12. That's "his" record; it goes right next to his name. It doesn't get chiseled next to Scott Pioli's name, or Clark Hunt, or his coordinators.
If Haley's record is going to improve, then some of the so-called developmental players that are part of the 53-man roster have to grow up fast, starting with the Monday night opener.
"I'm not giving anybody a free pass," Haley said. "We don't know what's going to happen and we need to have this guy ready so I've continued to press the coaches that we need him now, we're not waiting on anybody."
--LT Brandyn Dombrowski will get his first NFL start at the position, with Marcus McNeill remaining unsigned. Dombrowski will be tested by the Arrowhead Stadium noise.
--QB Billy Volek didn't work for the second straight day. He took some pretty good licks in the team's final preseason game.
--QB J.T. O'Sullivan continues to take the team's backup reps.
--DT Cam Thomas could get a look Monday with the Chiefs leaning on the running game. Thomas, a fifth-round pick, is stout at 6-4, 335 pounds.
--WR Patrick Crayton, among the newest Chargers, will be in the passing-game mix.
--WR Buster Davis has been long on promise and not much else. With Vincent Jackson still unsigned, that means more field time for Davis, a former first-round pick.
--OLB Cameron Sheffield apparently is having prolonged problems from the head/neck injury he suffered during the third pre-season game against the Eagles. Sheffield was involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit that day and was immobilized and taken off the field on a cart. But tests showed no major injury and after a night in the hospital, he was discharged.
--RT Ryan O'Callaghan keeps pushing to get back on the field, but it does not look like that's going to happen in the season opener. On Thursday, O'Callaghan did not practice with the offense. Instead, he was in the team's rehab area riding a stationary bike and trying to recover from the right groin injury he suffered almost three weeks ago.
--WR Dwayne Bowe has generally had success catching balls against the Chargers' defense. In five starts against San Diego, he's caught 27 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. His career-best day came at San Diego in 2007, his rookie season. Bowe racked up 164 yards and a touchdown in that game.
--WR Chris Chambers finds the end zone when he starts against the Chargers. Sandwiched around his three seasons in San Diego, Chambers has started four games against the Bolts while playing for Miami and Kansas City. He has four touchdown catches in those games, to go along with his total of 23 catches for 304 yards.
--ILB Derrick Johnson would love to recreate one of the best performances of his career. That came three years ago against the Chargers in San Diego. That day Johnson had a sack and strip of QB Phillip Rivers that led to a fumble return for a TD. He also intercepted the first pass of his career and added three other tackles.
--WR/RB/Returner Dexter McCluster has handled plays throughout the pre-season at all those positions, along with several more. Will that continue in the regular season? Sounds like it will, and maybe even more. "I might be on defense," McCluster said with a laugh. "I hope I'm very busy."
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