The final *Thursday Night Football* game of the season features a pair of AFC West colossuses battling for favorable playoff position in hopes of smoothing a potential gauntlet run to the Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
Can the Chargers contain Patrick Mahomes?
The second-year quarterback has seared through opposing defenses with merciless efficiency, tallying a league-high 4,584 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes. His reputation for performing at a high level when being chased around by defensive behemoths has become an indelible part of his success. Per Next Gen Stats, he leads the NFL with 11 TD passes when under pressure and he's only been sacked a league-best 14.5 percent of the time on pressured dropbacks.
Granted, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram aren't Aaron Donald, but the pass-rushing duo could cause plenty of problems for Mahomes. Bosa's fighting fit after having most of his season cratered by a pesky foot injury. He has four sacks in the four games he's played in. Ingram, however, hasn't had a sack since Bosa's return -- his longest streak of the season without a QB takedown.
Who will spearhead the Chargers' running game?
Slowing down the Mahomes-driven offensive freight train will be critical for the Chargers, but they'll likely need to score their fair share of points unless a vortex sucks this game into bizzaro world and transforms it into a low-scoring affair.
Gordon characterized his status as a "game-time decision" for Thursday, but players have a knack for sunny prognoses.
If Gordon is inactive, the Chargers will push rookie Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome into duty. That scenario likely means a heaping helping of passes for Rivers unless they want to see what Jackson and Newsome can do against the Chiefs' 25th-ranked run defense. Here's how much of a difference Gordon makes for the Chargers this season, per NFL Research:
With Gordon: 28.7 points per game; 407.8 total yards; 137.0 rushing yards per game, 9.5 big plays per game
Without Gordon: 26.3 PPG; 334.3 total yards; 72.3 rushing YPG; 5.0 big plays per game
Gordon is one of only six players in the league with 800 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards in 2018. That level of production can't be easily replaced.
Chiefs dealing with injuries, too
As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted last week, don't expect to see Sammy Watkins on the field before January as he continues to deal with a nagging foot injury.
Travis Kelce, the first tight end in NFL history to compile 80-plus receptions and 1,000-plus receiving yards in three consecutive seasons, would shoulder some of the extra load, but the Chiefs likely would need somebody else to stand up if Hill is out. Waiver-wire pickup Kelvin Benjamin could make his Kansas City debut but it's anyone's guess what he'd add to the Chiefs passing game after a dismal season in Buffalo.
Eric Berry, however, will play for the first time since suffering a torn Achilles tendon in Week 1 of the 2017 season, per Rapoport. He'll see limited playing time, Rapoport reported.
Can Philip Rivers repeat his Week 1 performance?
Rivers passed for 424 yards and three touchdowns (along with an interception) during the Chiefs' 38-28 season-opening victory. Despite the loss, the performance kicked off what has been the strongest season of Rivers' 15-year career.
Statistically, the Chiefs look like a quarterback's dream. Their 30th-ranked defense is the league's worst against the pass and they're giving up an average of 27 points per game, the most of any 11-win team in the Super Bowl era. But NFL fans are well indoctrinated into the offensive revolution that has swept over the NFL with Mahomes as its Napoleonic commandant.
If Rivers has to match Mahomes sling for sling in a no-holds-barred football arms race, his chances of leading the Chargers to victory could be compromised, especially if his running back duo is sidelined. Here's how he ranks side by side with Mahomes:
Passing YPG: 10th/1st
Passing TDs: T-4th/1st
Passer rating: 3rd/2nd
Los Angeles' eighth-ranked defense will have to play its part in slowing down the Mahomes scoring machine in order to enhance Rivers' chances of keeping ahead of the potential scoring onslaught.
Playoff scenarios for Chiefs, Chargers
Thursday's clash offers a few potential clinching scenarios for both teams.