Kansas City Chiefs 4/9 @ Los Angeles Chargers 15/8
Tuesday, 1:15am UK time
They say hope dies last. However, maybe it's the AFC West, whose battle for pivotal postseason position still rages on, with all four teams still very much in the mathematical mix.
Granted, after the Broncos let slip a 20-point lead on the road at Minny last night, Denver now look out of it at 3-7. But the Oakland Raiders (6-4) alongside the brace involved in tonight's MNF clash - the Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) and the LA Chargers (4-6) - have everything to play for in a divisional dogfight which could well come down to head-to-head record on the final day of the regular season.
Chiefs' defense has let them down
After Kansas City started the season at a blistering 4-0, the current scenario seemed most unlikely. Indeed, it appeared the Chiefs would instead be embroiled in a no less consequential skirmish with the New England Pats for the number-one play-off seeding in the AFC. However, Kansas City once-staunch defense has unraveled to new lows. And while many will point to the recent absence of Patrick Mahomes under center, the stark reality remains that the Chiefs have lost four of six overall and three of the last four games in which MVP Mahomes has played.
Tellingly, Mahomes' recent return (from a dislocated kneecap) at the helm of the Kansas chariot was stellar (a 72% completion-rate for a jaw-dropping 446 yards, three touchdowns and a 119.3 Passer Rating), and the Chiefs still lost! Again, a rush D whose salutation to most running backs appears to be "after you, Claude" was mostly to blame, allowing Derrick Henry to tear them to shreds last week with some relentless ground gains.
This makeshift defensive outfit are struggling to contain rival RBs, exploring the depths of 30th in the league for yards allowed per carry (5.1) and 31st for yards permitted per games (a hair's breadth shy of 150 yards). Six running backs have already posted 99+ yards against them this season alone. And now here comes LA's one-two knockout combination of Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon whose jarring components have finally coalesced into a powerful vehicle over the past fortnight, with 145+ yards posted in each of the last two games, and Gordon in particular finding his all-star feet. This thunder and lightning tandem can eat the clock, control the pace of the game and even loosen up Phil Rivers' passing arm.
Mahomes is Kansas City's lethal weapon
When all's said and done, though, it is Mahomes who still holds the launch codes to the NFL's most lethal deep-field missiles (including the explosive Tyreek Hill). Especially amid the rarefied Mexico City altitude of the 7,200-feet Azteca Stadium (a 84,000-seater late replacement for the scorched turf of the LA Coliseum) where the ball can fly on fiery throw-first-think-later quarterbacks like Rivers - above all when he's behind in the game.
The Kansas O-line protects Mahomes well enough, and the rest is best left to the 24-year-old's flair, timing and tingling of his innate spider sense. On the other side of the ball, the Bolts' best hope is to restrict Mahomes to the pocket and bring their punchy pass rush, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who've already recorded 24 sacks this term and one-in-four strike rate for harrying opposing QBs.
Therefore, while this game may well be tight in parts, I think the Chiefs will ride off into the sunset by eventually finding a higher gear. A win in the small hours of tomorrow morning will secure them up some crucial head-to-head advantages across the division, too. So, victory should help lock up this division and make the adjustments for a playoff run where the Chiefs will likely have to operate from a low seeding with no bye week.