Behind Enemy Lines: Bolts vs. Chiefs, Part I

It's win or go home for San Diego, while Kansas City needs a win and some help to make it back to the tourney. Can Philip Rivers overcome the Chiefs' fierce pass rush? Will Brandon Flowers make a big play against his former team? To answer these and other questions, we check in with our team experts Michael Lombardo and Nick Athan.

Michael Lombardo is the publisher of Nick Athan is the publisher of Warpaint Illustrated.

Nick Athan: The Chargers seem to never quit. With a pair of modest losing streaks that seemed to push them farther from the postseason stage, they have come back again to hold the keys to getting back into the postseason -- much like they did a year ago. How has this happened?

Michael Lombardo: The Chargers, despite a lot of turnover over the last couple seasons since brining in a new general manager and head coach, have a lot of veterans who realize this window can only stay open so long. Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Jarret Johnson and Eric Weddle all come to mind. These guys are highly motivated to win and have been around long enough to know you never quit until the final whistle blows.

This team has adopted the mantra: We won’t win them all, but we will fight like crazy until the end. Sometimes those rallies fall short, such as the first meeting with the Chiefs in San Diego, but sometimes they result in incredible wins like the ones San Diego authored against St. Louis, Baltimore and San Francisco.

NA: Rivers has bounced all over the place this year. At times, he's been the best quarterback in the NFL and other times he looks pedestrian. Granted, he's still an upper-echelon performer at his position, but what's been at the heart of some of his inconsistencies?

ML: Rivers is not one for excuses so I am not inclined to make them on his behalf. There have been some games where he simply did not play well, such as the recent losses to the Patriots and Broncos. He is a pure pocket passer, so when he faces an elite pass rush he can get rattled. When that pass rush comes up the middle, it makes life all the more difficult on No. 17.

Much has been made of his back injury, as it has been reported he is playing with a bulging disk in his lower back. But he was able to throw the ball 54 times last week in San Francisco and plans on being a full participant in practice this week, so if he lays a dud in Kansas City, his back will not be the reason why.

NA: The Chiefs defeated the Chargers earlier in the year at their place. How do you think that motivates San Diego to return serve at Arrowhead?

ML: I don’t think revenge is a motivating factor at all (except, perhaps, for Brandon Flowers). San Diego caught a huge break on Sunday when the Texans upset the Ravens; without that outcome, the Chargers would still need more help to get into the tournament. As soon as the Bolts learned this was a "win and in" game, they had all the motivation they could possibly need.

That being said, I think the Chargers-Chiefs game that comes to mind is not the one from earlier this season, but rather last season’s finale in San Diego. That was another "win and in" game for the Bolts, yet it was a game they very nearly lost despite the Chiefs resting all of their significant starters. The Chargers need to come out desperate and try to take the crowd out of the game early, or it could be a long day for the visitors.

NA: In the offseason, despite some serious question marks in the secondary, the Chiefs released former All Pro corner Brandon Flowers. The Chargers signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason. In your estimate, how has he performed for the Bolts and do they plan on re-signing him for 2015 and beyond?

ML: Flowers has been a huge pickup. He is a top-15 corner this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and leads the Chargers with three interceptions. He has also emerged as the co-leader of the young secondary, along with Eric Weddle, and has that unit making progress every week.

The Chargers will make every effort to sign Flowers to a long-term deal. If the team can bring back Flowers and pair him with 2014 first-round pick Jason Verrett -- who missed much of the season with a shoulder injury but was sensational when healthy -- the defense will be much better for it.

NA: The state of the NFL has certainly changed over the last couple of years. The word parity, and in some cases mediocrity, have been staples of the game. However, San Diego has proven over the last decade to always stay in contention for either a division title or wild-card berth. What's been their overriding secret the last ten seasons?

  ML: A couple things changed for the Chargers about 10 years ago that led to this decade of contention. Firstly, and most importantly, they have had excellent quarterback play, a stretch that began with Drew Brees and transitioned over to Rivers. Secondly, they have spent the last decade in the 3-4 defense, which has allowed them to attack and dictate on that side of the ball.

Good drafting has also been a key, as it is with most successful teams. A.J. Smith was among the best in the business until he went crazy in 2007. He was replaced by Tom Telesco a couple years ago and Telsco is off to a stellar start, as his 2013 draft was of the A-plus variety. The jury is still out on this year’s draft class, as the top three picks (Verrett, Jerry Attaochu and Chris Watt) have all been slowed by injuries. But all in all the Chargers appear to be in good hands with Telesco and should be annual contenders until Rivers calls it quits.

NA: Straight to the point: Who wins on Sunday?

ML: I know you are predicting a runaway Chargers win, but nothing ever comes easy in this series, especially not in Kansas City. The Chiefs know they are not going to the playoffs, so the Chargers should be much more motivated, but Kansas City is well built to slow San Diego’s best player (Rivers). I think this game will come down to the fourth quarter, where I see the Bolts winning a fairly low-scoring game, something along the lines of 20-17. But if the Chiefs pull off the upset, I would not be surprised in the least.

NA: What will the AFC playoff bracket look like when it's all said and done?

ML:The seedings will look as follows...

  • 1. New England Patriots
  • 2. Denver Broncos
  • 3. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 4. Indianapolis Colts
  • 5. Cincinnati Bengals
  • 6. San Diego Chargers

Spoiler: If the brackets look like this, I am picking the road team to win both of the wild-card games.

Talk all about the Bolts-Chiefs game in the Chargers boards or the Chiefs boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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