The Kansas City Chiefs travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium (kickoff is 1:25 p.m. PT) in the final regular season matchup of the 2016 season. Surprisingly, this game provides both teams with plenty of motivation to get a win.
The Chiefs (11-4) have won four of their last five games, including last week's 33-10 win over Denver, and enter the contest with a 5-0 record in division play. The Chiefs also have clinched a playoff berth and currently hold the fifth seed. However, Kansas City really is aiming for the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye, and if they can defeat the Chargers and have Oakland lose to Denver, then the division, and an added week of rest, will be theirs.
Meanwhile, the Chargers (5-10) are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, including last week's 20-17 loss to lowly Cleveland. On the surface, it would appear that the Chargers are playing simply for pride and the thrill of being a spoiler.
But these are not ordinary times in San Diego.
On election night, a measure for a new downtown San Diego stadium was rejected by voters, setting the stage for a possible franchise exodus to Los Angeles. The Chargers' ownership now must decide shortly whether to become a tenant in the Los Angeles Rams new arena, or have their option to move to Los Angeles transfer over to the Oakland Raiders.
With the possibility of a new stadium -- at least in the downtown area -- growing more unlikely, the franchise could very well be playing its final game in San Diego this Sunday. As such, the Bolts will be highly motivated to reward their fans by going out on a high note and defeating their division rival.
To do so, the Chargers first need to keep dangerous wideout Tyreek Hill in check. The versatile and speedy rookie receiver has 11 total touchdowns this season (three rushing, two returning, six receiving), and has accumulated 799 scrimmage yards this season (10.4 yards per touch). Hill also leads the league in punt return yards (497) and is second in average (13.1).
San Diego also must contend with Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce, who leads the club with 84 receptions for 1,117 yards and four TDs, and running back Spencer Ware (921 rushing yards and three rushing TD).
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith gets ripped for his conservative check-down tendencies, but he has been productive. Smith completed 307 passes for 3,238 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions this year, as he owns a 66.6 completion percentage and a 89.9 rating.
In order to contain the Chiefs offense, the Chargers will need cornerback Casey Hayward and rookie defensive lineman Joey Bosa playing at a high level. Hayward leads the NFL with seven picks, while Bosa leads all rookies with 9.5 sacks.
Offensively, expect the Chargers to rely heavily on the arm of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers because the team's running back depth has evaporated. After producing a nice bounce-back season, starting back Melvin Gordon has been ruled out due to hip and knee injuries, and his primary backup -- second-leading rusher Kenneth Farrow -- has been placed on “Reserve-Injured” with a shoulder injury.
That means the ball carrying duties will be manned by Andre Williams, who was signed this week from the practice squad.
Last week Rivers passed for 322 yards and three touchdowns, putting him fifth in the NFL with 4,117 passing yards. With the Chargers just 3-4 at home this season, and with no reliable running game to help him, Rivers will need to produce a superlative effort in order to give San Diego potentially its one last moment of pro football glory.
Rivers must be wary of a Chiefs defense that has produced 31 takeaways, including a league-best seven in the red zone, while only allowing an average of 18.9 points-per-game.
Expect Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford (10 sacks) to put the heat on the Chargers star quarterback, while corner Marcus Peters (five interceptions) and playmaking safety Eric Berry (four interceptions) look to pick off a Rivers pass or two.
In other Bolts news . . .
Chargers announce team awards
The San Diego Chargers announced their team awards on Thursday and cornerback Casey Hayward led the way, earning team MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Also honored were Melvin Gordon (Offensive Player of the Year), Darrell Stuckey (Special Teams Player of the Year), Matt Slauson and Joey Bosa (co-Linemen of the Year), and Brandon Mebane (Most Inspirational Player).
Hayward is only the third defensive player in the last 15 years to be named team MVP, joining Jamal Williams in 2008 and Eric Weddle in 2012. Hayward is headed to his first career Pro Bowl as he leads the NFL in interceptions and passes defensed.
It should come as no surprise that the team MVP is also its defensive player of the year. Not only does Hayward have a League-leading seven picks, but he’s also tallied 52 tackles and 23 passes defensed through 15 games.
Following a mediocre rookie year, Gordon came back with a breakout season for the Chargers, carrying the rock 245 times for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns, while catching 41 passes for 419 yards and another pair of scores.
For the third time in four years, Stuckey, the Chargers’ Special Teams captain takes home the hardware. Despite commanding constant double and triple teams as one of the top gunners in the NFL, Stuckey’s seven special teams tackles rank third on the team.
In his first year as a true center, Slauson, an eight-year veteran, brought toughness to the Bolts’ offensive line in 2016, as he becomes the first center to win the award since Nick Hardwick. Slauson started every game this season, as the Bolts have rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns, while helping Philip Rivers pass for more than 4,100 yards and 31 scores.
The third overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Bosa leads all NFL rookies with 9.5 sacks. The defensive end also has 42 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 42 pressures, and 12 QB hits. Three times this season, Bosa has recorded multiple sacks in a game.
Signed to a three-year contract in the opening hours of free agency, it didn’t take the veteran nose tackle Mebane long to emerge as the heart and soul of the Chargers defense. Voted a team captain in his first year in San Diego, Mebane appeared in 10 games before a biceps injury prematurely ended his campaign. While he was a game-changer on the field, recording 35 tackles, 15 pressures, six QB hits, one sack, and his first career interception, his leadership in the locker room proved invaluable.
Bosa nominated for NFL Rookie of the Week
San Diego Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard, Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott are the nominees for the NFL Rookie of the Week award for Week 16, the NFL announced.
After the regular season, five players will be nominated for Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year honors. Fans can vote for the winner on NFL.com/rookies throughout the month of January.
INJURY REPORT -- CHIEFS at CHARGERS
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
LB Justin Houston (knee)
CB Phillip Gaines (knee), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
RB Melvin Gordon (hip, knee), CB Craig Mager (shoulder)
T King Dunlap (knee)
WR Jeremy Butler (ankle), G Orlando Franklin (shoulder), LB Denzel Perryman (knee), C Matt Slauson (foot)
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services