KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs swept the Chargers a season ago, stifling the San Diego offense, but it should no be as easy this time around.
The Chargers look ready to rebound and put a disappointing 2015 season behind them. Quarterback Philip Rivers sounds optimistic, and has some of his best weapons back available.
But the Chiefs enter the season inspired optimistic with big ambitions. They had their taste of the playoffs a year ago, and now they want more.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Last year the Chiefs owned the Chargers and Rivers, holding him to just 441 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions, a quarterback rating of 64.9 and most importantly just six points.
But a year ago the Chiefs had veteran defensive backs Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah, and Rivers had almost none of his most effective targets. This year’s Chiefs have young, untested cornerbacks, and Rivers is ready to give them a pop quiz.
Marcus Peters had a strong rookie season, but now he’s expected to shoulder the load at cornerback. Phillip Gaines needs to pick up where he left off before knee surgery nearly a year ago. The Chiefs also need second-year corner Steven Nelson to thrive in his first extensive playing time.
How much help the Chiefs pass rush can provides also effects how well the secondary performs. The Chiefs will lineup without Justin Houston and with a Tamba Hali who did not play in any of the preseason games.
Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West
The running back tandem provided the Chiefs with 216 yards rushing and two touchdowns filling in for Jamaal Charles against San Diego last season.
Ware had a solid preseason, rushing for 85 yards on 24 carries along with three touchdowns. West did not play in the preseason after suffering an elbow injury against Seattle in the first preseason tilt. He continues to wear a bulky elbow brace in practice, but he has remained a full participant.
The Chiefs need to establish the running game early against the Chargers. Andy Reid called Ware the probable starter, but also suggest the Chiefs will alternate backs based on position groups and scheme. Along with Knile Davis, the Chiefs have depth without Charles.
The Arrowhead Stadium crowd gives the Chiefs an edge, but it’s most effective when opponents are buried deep in their own territory. The Chiefs won their last two preseason games largely based on winning the field position battles. They can’t afford to give Rivers a short field.
Chiefs win pull it out, 23-16. The Chiefs limit Rivers under 300 yards passing, but it won’t be easy. The Chargers move the ball but the Chiefs hold them to field goals.
TALE OF THE TAPE
• The Chiefs finished 2015 ranked 2nd in rushing (127.8 yards per game) and 16th in passing (203.4 yards per game).
• The Chargers finished 2015 ranked 31st in rushing (84.9 yards per game) and fourth in passing (286.9 yards per game).
• The Chiefs finished 2015 rank fifth against the run (98.2 yards allowed per game) and fourth against the pass (231.1 yards allowed per game).
• The Chargers finished 2015 ranked 27th against the run (125.3 yards allowed per game) and tied for 14th against the pass (236.6 yards allowed per game).
THE LAST TIME
The Chiefs swept the Chargers last season, winning 33-3 in San Diego and 10-3 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Sunday’s opener marks the 113th time in regular and postseason history between the two teams. The teams last met in the season opener in 2010, with the Chiefs winning 21-14.
The Chiefs are 56-55-1 in the all-time series, including holding a 33-23 record at home (25-19 at Arrowhead Stadium).
Kansas City has won the last four meetings between the teams by a combined margin of 85-33.
• Chargers safety Darrell Stuckey played at Kansas (2006-09), where he compiled 178 tackles, 10 interceptions and 26 passes defended. Stuckey grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and played at Washington High School.
• San Diego backup running back Dreamius Smith went Wichita Heights High School before attending Butler Community College. He later transferred to West Virginia.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on the start of the season:
“We’ve been preparing for this since last season ended. I think we’re excited about it. I think we’re excited about the group of guys that we have in this locker room, and I think we’re all looking forward to it.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson on fellow inside linebacker Justin March playing his first NFL game:
“He’s a guy that wants to learn all that he can. He asks me and Josh Mauga questions galore, he’s a young that’s very hungry and I’m excited to see what he does on Sunday. We know he can make plays.”
Tight end Travis Kelce on the potential for the Chiefs offense:
“We have mismatches all over the field. It doesn’t just stop in the wide receiver room or the tight end room with just the guys that are starting. We have guys coming off the bench, coming off the sideline that are going to make plays when their number is called – that’s exciting.”