Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers: Matchups, prediction for a potentially decisive AFC West battle

What is our prediction for this week's Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers game? What matchups could be crucial on Thursday night?

What is our prediction for this Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers matchup that could set the direction of the AFC West? How do the different matchups break down for Chiefs at Chargers, what are the current NFL odds, and does our prediction suggest a surprise could be in the cards?

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers prediction | Chiefs offense vs. Chargers defense

The Chiefs’ offense has been tough to judge this season, and their last four games emphasize it perfectly. They scored over 40 points in both matchups with the Raiders but could manage just 19 points against the Cowboys and 22 against the Broncos.

This week, they face a Chargers defense that has had its struggles this season. They rank 26th in the league in points allowed per drive, giving up an average of 25.8 points per game. They have been better in the last three weeks, allowing just 23.7 points per game. However, this will be a much tougher test than during those three weeks.

Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs skill-position weapons vs. Chargers defense

Mahomes’ performances this year have been similar to the output of the Chiefs’ offense. He was impressive in those games against the Raiders, but the games against Dallas and Denver were a real struggle. That has been the story of his season — a mixture of impressive games and huge struggles.

Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric has underlined the concerns. OVM grades players value to the offense based on elements within their control. Since Week 7, Mahomes has only provided above-average value to the Chiefs’ offense once — Week 14 against the Raiders. The Chiefs might be winning, but Mahomes has been far less than convincing.

It will be a tough test for Mahomes against the Chargers’ passing defense. They rank as an above-average unit in terms of passer rating and completion rating against, as well as passing yards per attempt. However, when it comes to touchdown percentage and interception percentage, they are essentially a league-average unit. In Week 3, the Chargers intercepted Mahomes twice on their way to a 30-24 victory.

An element that is always key in these Chargers vs. Chiefs matchups is the approach the Chargers’ secondary takes. Historically, they have played the Chiefs physically at the line of scrimmage. That makes it tough for the likes of Tyreek Hill to utilize his speed and can help contain Travis Kelce. It is a high-risk approach that has gone both ways for them, so it will be interesting to see how Brandon Staley approaches his second matchup with Andy Reid’s offense.

Advantage: Push

Chiefs offensive line vs. Chargers defensive front

The run game is potentially a major concern for the Chargers’ defense. The Chiefs’ offensive line has been marginally above average when it comes to running the ball, while the Chargers’ defensive front has been one of the worst in the NFL. They have allowed 100 yards rushing in four of six games since their bye (and 10 of their 13 games this season).

The Chargers’ defensive front is better rushing the passer, ranking in the top 12 in pressure rate, hurry rate, and sack rate. The Chiefs’ offensive line has been tough to judge this season. As with almost every line, there have been struggles. However, Mahomes’ athleticism can both help and hinder their efforts, making their top-five ranking in sack rate hard to evaluate just on number alone.

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The Chargers need their pass rush to pressure Mahomes. With the Chiefs already having a huge advantage in the run game, the Chargers need to at least even that out when it comes to the pass rush. If Mahomes has time to stand in the pocket, it will be close to impossible for the Chargers’ secondary to stay with the likes of Hill and Kelce.

Advantage: Chiefs

The Chiefs offense has the advantage on third downs and in the red zone

When it comes to making a prediction for this Chiefs vs. Chargers matchup, the conversion percentage of the Chiefs offense and Chargers defense in high-leverage situations such as third down and the red zone cannot be underestimated. These elements are always important, but the difference here is stark.

The Chiefs have the best red-zone offense in the league, converting on 52.2% of their 157 attempts. Meanwhile, the Chargers are the worst team in the league defending third downs. They have allowed third-down conversions on 49.1% of their 163 defensive opportunities.

In their Week 3 matchup, the Chargers allowed a 60% conversion rate by the Chiefs, but they managed to force 4 turnovers to win the game. Forcing turnovers is key if you cannot get the opponent off the field on third downs. Unfortunately, the Chargers are only marginally above league average at forcing them.

The difference is less dramatic in the red zone, but it still favors the Chiefs. The Chiefs have scored touchdowns on 60.4% of their red-zone trips (14th-best). Meanwhile, the Chargers have allowed touchdowns on 67.3% of red-zone trips. The Chargers need to step up in this game on either third down, in the red zone, or force turnovers if they have a chance to win.

Advantage: Chiefs

Chiefs at Chargers prediction | Chargers offense vs. Chiefs defense

The Chargers’ offense started somewhat slowly coming out of their bye week. In those first three weeks, they averaged 23.7 per game. Since then, they have averaged 33 points per game, including scoring over 40 twice. However, they struggled in Denver against a well-organized Broncos defense, who restricted them to just 13 points.

Their test this week will come against a much-improved Chiefs defense. In the first five weeks of the season, the Chiefs allowed an average of 32.6 points per game. Since then, they’ve allowed over 17 points just once and have allowed an average of 13.1 points per game. Additionally, they have forced 11 turnovers in the last three games and 15 in the last five.

Justin Herbert vs. Chiefs defense

Through the middle of the Chargers’ season, Herbert was struggling. When we look at his OVM grades, he provided below-average value to his offense in seven of his eight games between Weeks 3 and 11. However, the last three weeks have seen him provide above-average value to the offense. That needs to continue in Week 15 if the Chargers have a chance to spring the upset.

How Herbert performs is a crucial element of any prediction for Chiefs vs. Chargers in Week 15. He needs to elevate this offense — just scoring 13 points against the Chiefs won’t get the job done. The Chiefs’ offense has been hit or miss, but scoring under 20 points is unlikely to be enough.

The turnaround of this Kansas City defense has been dramatic. A big part has been familiarity with a unit that had to adapt and adjust this season. One of the catalysts has been Chris Jones, who was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Tuesday. Per Andy Reid, he still has a chance to play, and his presence along with that of young CB L’Jarius Sneed could be crucial.

Advantage: Push

Chargers skill-position weapons vs. Chiefs secondary and linebackers

While the Chiefs are dealing with COVID-19 issues this week, the Chargers are recovering. Mike Williams managed to avoid missing a game after being a close contact, while Keenan Allen returns this week after testing positive early in Week 14. Additionally, despite getting his ankle taped, Austin Ekeler is reportedly set to be available for the Chargers, which will be a huge boost.

The Chiefs could get a similar boost with Sneed’s return after the passing away of a relative. The combination of Sneed, Charvarius Ward, and Mike Hughes has impressed at CB this season. However, if Ekeler is fully healthy, the play of their linebackers and safeties in coverage will be key. If the Chargers can exploit matchups with Ekeler, their offense could be tough to stop.

Advantage: Push

Chargers offensive line vs. Chiefs defensive front

Similar to the difference between the Chargers’ run defense and the Chiefs’ run game, the offense has the advantage here. The Chargers’ run game has not grabbed any headlines, but they have been proficient. When you have a talented QB, that is often all you need from the run game. The line has also been a top-10 unit in pass protection.

The Chiefs rank 27th against the run when it comes to yards per rush attempt. However, they’ve only allowed 100 yards rushing in one of their last four games. A big part of that is the game script, with teams tending to have to chase them. The Chargers should try to keep their offense with a semblance of balance to keep Kansas City’s pass rushers off-balance.

The Chiefs have been extremely frustrating when rushing the passer. Kansas City has the second-best pressure rate (28%) and hurry rate (13.9%), but they struggle to finish (a sack rate of 4.9%). They have been impacting opposing passing games, but not as much as they could have been. Unfortunately, they could be without Jones, who has 29.2% of their sacks this season.

Advantage: Chargers (marginally)

Chiefs vs. Chargers betting line and game prediction

  • Spread: Chiefs -3 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Chiefs -150, Chargers +130
  • Total: 52

The way the Chiefs have played recently, it’s tough to see them losing. The Chargers need to be at their very best on offense — defensively, they’ve had trouble this year. Three elements of this game have been inconsistent, with the Chiefs’ defense having consistently been the best unit of the four over the past two months.

The Chargers won by 6 points in their early-season encounter despite winning the turnover battle 4 to 0. The problem is that it feels like they need the same phenomenon to win in Week 15. Yet, that seems unlikely. It could certainly happen, but that script requires the Chiefs to struggle and the Chargers to be almost perfect (or at least mistake-free).

Chiefs vs. Chargers Prediction: Chiefs 27, Chargers 21

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