The Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium to kick off their 2016 season. Kansas City, with largely the same roster as last season, is looking to win their fifth straight against their division rivals that have struggled in being competitive over the last few seasons. However, this is a new season for both teams, and would like it very much to beat their division foe. To do that, though, Kansas City will have to lean on what saw got them to the playoffs last season, along with new found progress from the preseason.
1. How much better is this offense…really?
Kansas City outscored San Diego 43-6 in their two meetings last season, but 33 of those points came in one game, and Alex Smith only threw one touchdown. Many have said the veteran is on the brink of a career year, and with Chris Conley looking more and more like a threat at the WR2 position, it is well justified. Against a secondary like San Diego’s, however, that story line will be put to the test. Without Eric Weddle roaming the middle, I’m hoping to see Travis Kelce targeted there more often, as he has been under utilized by head coach Andy Reid.
2. Will the secondary be as much a problem?
None of the Chiefs starting corners is beyond three years pro experience. Granted, Marcus Peters looks like one of the NFL’s next best corners, and Phillip Gaines has been solid in his young career, but after that they are very unproven. Steven Nelson and D.J White are likely to fight over snaps as the nickel corner in a defense that requires lots of man coverage, and thus, a premium on awareness. The faster the young players develop, the better off for this defense, which I think will do better in the absence of injured (Justin Houston, for one) and departed (Sean Smith, for another) players than expected. Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and an offense led by Philip Rivers is the perfect test.
3. Who steps up to replace Justin Houston…?
Could it be Dee Ford again? The last time he played against this Chargers squad he had 3 sacks, 7 tackles, and a game-winning pass breakup on man coverage of pass-catching back Danny Woodhead to stun the Chargers in an Arrowhead nail-biter. Or will it be the 5th round rookie, Dadi Nicolas, who impressed this preseason for his knack for creating pressure and disrupting the run? If either one, if not both, could create pressure and disrupt the timing of the Chargers offense, it could bode well for KC.
4. …or will it even matter?
The Chiefs have the NFL’s best front that nobody talks about. They are not great pass rushers, except for Jaye Howard, but they will not let you run on them, and they are excellent at pushing offensive lines back into the quarterback. To address the lack of pass rush, they drafted Chris Jones, who has dominated every team he faced during the preseason with his power, speed, and pass rushing moves. If Jones can translate that into games that matter, look out.
5. Who wins? And why?
I think Kansas City starts the year 1-0. They’re 2-1 in season openers under Andy Reid, and the Chargers didn’t improve their offensive line or front seven enough to the point where I believe they can stop the Chiefs rushing attack or protect Rivers for any adequate amount of time. Having another talented receiver opposite Jeremy Maclin will open up the field for Alex Smith, who, with an improved offensive line, has the smarts and talent to lead an impressive offense.
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