Finally finished with their slate of games against the NFC East, the Chiefs turn their attention back to the AFC West with a home game against San Diego. The matchup with the Chargers marks the Chiefs' second game inside their division.
San Diego needed to close out the 2008 season with a four-game winning streak just to finish with an 8-8 record. But thanks to a historic collapse by the Denver Broncos, that 8-8 record was enough for the Chargers to finish atop the AFC West for the third consecutive year.
Led by Philip Rivers and his league-leading passer rating, San Diego's offense scored the second-most points in the NFL last season with an average of 27.7 per game. Rivers' ongoing maturation made it possible for the Chargers' offense to thrive despite the continued statistical decline of LaDainian Tomlinson, who averaged just 3.8 yards a carry last year.
Defensively, linebacker Shawne Merriman missed every game but the season opener, and corner Antonio Cromartie was bothered by a hip injury throughout the season. The result was a drastic decline in the Chargers' defense, which finished with an overall ranking of 25th and the league's second-worst pass defense.
However, since both players – particularly Merriman – are expected to return healthy this season, the Chargers' defense should bounce back strong in 2009.
Why The Chiefs Could Win
Based on talent alone, it's hard to imagine the Chiefs even keeping the score close, let alone pulling out a win over San Diego. But that same statement has been equally true in each of the last two seasons, and how did those games play out?
In 2007, the Chiefs team that ultimately finished with a 4-12 record upset the Chargers on their home field, winning 30-16. Last year, the 2-14 Chiefs were swept in the series, but lost both games by a combined two points. If not for a botched extra point in the first game and a dropped onside kick in the second, it would have been Kansas City pulling off the sweep.
For whatever reason, even as the Chiefs struggle against the rest of the league, they continue to give the Chargers a tough battle every year. Do the Chiefs rise up for the game, knowing they're playing the cream of the crop in their division? Or do the Chargers simply play down to their competition?
Another factor to consider is the early-season slumber San Diego has suffered through since Norv Turner was hired as head coach. In his first season, the same Chargers that had gone 14-2 the previous year under Marty Schottenheimer started 5-5 under Turner. But they finished the season on a six-game winning streak and many thought the early-season struggles were just a one-time occurrence – an adjustment to their new coach.
Instead, last season proved to be even worse as the Chargers entered the month of December at 4-8. The team didn't have a record above .500 at any point during the regular season.
In Turner's two seasons at the helm, the Chargers have been at .500 or below after playing their first eight games of the season. Going into Week 7, the Chargers have twice had a 3-3 record.
If the same pattern holds true this year and San Diego continues to sleepwalk their way through the first half of the NFL season, they could again be ripe for an upset as they walk into Arrowhead.
Why The Chiefs Will Lose
Despite everything we just covered, the feeling here is that the Chargers will finally get things figured out this year. The slow start during Turner's first season can be attributed to a new head coach. The slow start last year can be attributed to their injuries on defense.
This year, there aren't any excuses. There's simply no reason for a team as talented as the Chargers to spend a third straight year stumbling through the first half of their schedule.
Unfortunately, that ends up being bad news for Kansas City in this contest.
Most Likely Outcome: the Chiefs (2-5) continue to play the Chargers tough, but San Diego pulls out the win.
Reading KC's Fortune - Week 7
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