By Norm Elrod
Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season is filled with intriguing match-ups, made all the more interesting by the uncertainty that comes with the first game of the season. Look no further than last night’s sloppy Falcons-Eagles game, a rematch of the 2017 NFC divisional playoff game.
The Chiefs-Chargers AFC West battle comes with plenty of uncertainty as well. Kansas City will start rookie gunslinger Patrick Mahomes, who replaces the departed Alex Smith. And given their vastly different styles, expect a more wide-open Chiefs offense. Mahomes will be given a long leash, and he will make plenty of the mistakes. But coach Andy Reid will be perfectly content to let his young quarterback learn on the job. Having Kareem Hunt in the backfield will certainly help.
While the Chiefs will score some points, can they score enough to overcome their suspect defense? Kansas City’s defense, particularly its run defense, was among the worst last season. And aside from incremental improvement that might come with keeping starters healthy and on the field, the defense won’t be decidedly better this season.
And they find themselves up against Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers, who many pick to be a contender in the AFC. Before they can make some noise in the playoffs, the Chargers have to get out of the an AFC West that tends to eat its own. This season they might just have the right players around Rivers to actually play into January. Melvin Gordon ran for over 1000 yards last season and figures to be a force again this season. Wideout Keenan Allen is coming off a career year, in which he avoided major injury. And the Chargers offensive line has improved enough to keep Rivers upright.
On the defensive side, Los Angeles usually lines up Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, one of the NFL’s most feared pass-rushing duos. Though lucky for the Chiefs, Bosa has been ruled out this week with a foot injury. Still, the Chargers’ pass defense is solid, with lockdown corner Casey Hayward sure to limit Mahomes’ passing options downfield. Their only real weakness — relatively, anyway — is their run defense. And that could be the difference if Hunt gets going.
As SportsLine analyst R.J. White sees it…
The Chiefs are being undervalued with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, as the upside is there for this to be a top-scoring offense. The Chargers made a great pickup in the draft with Derwin James, but I’m not sure they’ve fixed the run defense, and Corey Liuget’s suspension doesn’t help. Chiefs pound the ball in this matchup and put their defense in position to succeed despite question marks at cornerback. This will be a field goal either way.