Most wondered how Kansas City could overcome its early propensity for turnovers without consideration for the possibility the Chiefs’ defense would become a rescue response unit.
Yet during their six-game winning streak, the Chiefs have forced 16 turnovers and allowed an average of 311.7 yards and 10.9 points.
Kansas City (9-4) needed every bit of that stinginess to forge the slim AFC West lead the Chiefs carry into a divisional clash Thursday against the second-place Los Angeles Chargers (8-5) at Inglewood, Calif.
The Chiefs are being heavily-backed as 3.0-point favorites, drawing more than 70 percent of the spread-line bets and money at BetRivers and DraftKings, while Kansas City has been backed by 75 percent and 69 percent, respectively, at PointsBet.
“Anytime you can get late into the season, and your defense starts to come alive, it goes back to the old quote, ‘Defense wins championships,'” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We want to give our offense as many possessions as possible.”
Patrick Mahomes won’t soon object, recognizing the value momentum plays down the stretch.
“It can if you use it the right way,” Mahomes said. “You also don’t want to become complacent with playing good and have that relaxed feeling.”
Mahomes ranks fifth in the NFL with 3,642 passing yards while improving a touchdown-to-interception ratio (27 to 12) that remains uncharacteristically pedestrian. His reliance and trust in Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darryl Williams make them serious backfield threats as defenders key on Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
The Chiefs have won seven straight road games against the Chargers as part of a .750 winning percentage coach Andy Reid (39-13) carries in AFC West games. Kansas City is coming off division wins over Denver and Las Vegas, holding each to nine points.
In Justin Herbert, the Chargers possess a quarterback capable of outperforming Mahomes, especially since Los Angeles won the first matchup 30-24 in Week 3 at Kansas City. In that game, the Chargers forged a 4-0 turnover margin and outscored the Chiefs 16-7 in the final quarter.
“Sacks are good,” the Chargers’ Joey Bosa said, “but being able to get those turnovers and get it in the hands of Justin is way more helpful in getting those wins.”
Herbert ranks fourth in the NFL, a spot ahead of Mahomes, with 3,822 passing yards. He has thrown for 30 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, helping the Chargers win three of their last four games.
“I do think this offense we’re getting ready to play is one of the better ones we’re going to play all year long,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I’m glad the guys have done what they’ve done. When it’s all said and done, it really does come down to points allowed.”
Two Chargers wide receivers are approaching the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Keenan Allen (929 yards) cleared COVID-19 protocol and will play against the Chiefs. Mike Williams (915), who is nursing a heel injury and also cleared COVID-19 protocol, was among nine receivers who caught passes in a 37-21 win Sunday over the New York Giants.
“I expected us to be in the (playoff) hunt, that’s for sure, and I expected us to be able to win any game that we played,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “That was my vision going into this position … no matter who it is, no matter where it is. I feel like we’ve demonstrated that.”
The Over/Under market has seen some significant swings this week.
It opened at 49.5 points at PointsBet, but has since moved to 54 with 78 percent of the bets and 71 percent of the handle backing the Over. The 54-point market at Bet Rivers has also seen lopsided action with 70.56 percent of the bets and 76.04 percent of the handle supporting the Over.
It has been over more one-sided at DraftKings, where the Over/Under sat at 51.5 points on Thursday. The public was backing the Over at 82 percent of both the total bets and the money.
Quarterback pressure has keyed the Chiefs’ defensive might, but they will be without their top pass-rusher, Chris Jones, and linebacker Willie Gay due to COVID-19 protocol. L’Jarius Sneed has also been ruled out for the second consecutive game following the death of his brother.
Guard Andrew Wylie (knee) and cornerback Charvarius Ward (Non-COVID-19 illness) are listed as questionable for the Chiefs.
Los Angeles will be without offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, who is also in COVID-19 protocol. The Chargers already are playing two backups along their offensive line, and Trey Pipkins will play in Slater’s place.
Running back Austin Ekeler (ankle), cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion) and safeties Alohi Green (quadricep) and Derwin James (hamstring) were listed as questionable after taking part in limited practice this week.
–Field Level Media