By Cedric Williams
The 2016 NFL regular season finale has a very simple storyline for the Kansas City Chiefs.
If Kansas City wins Sunday’s game over the San Diego Chargers, and the long-time franchise rival Oakland Raiders lose, the Chiefs will finish the regular season as champions of the AFC West. They will be the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and will earn themselves a week off before hosting a game at Arrowhead Stadium, when the divisional round of the playoffs begins in three weeks.
If the Chiefs lose on Sunday, or they win but the Raiders also win, Oakland will win the AFC West and Kansas City will go to the playoffs as a wild card team, where as the No. 5 seed, KC will take on the No. 4 seeded Houston Texans in an AFC wild card game in Houston next weekend.
Before the Chiefs get to that point though, they will face an interesting final week and final regular season game with the Chargers, a team that could be playing its final game ever in San Diego. The Chargers franchise has been seeking help in building a new stadium in the San Diego area for years, but the city has rejected it.
And now the Chargers have been given clearance to move to Los Angeles to join the Rams (who left St. Louis after last season) if they want. Most league front office experts believe the Chargers will decide to do just that, with the announcement likely coming within the next couple of weeks.
If that were to all happen, that would make Sunday’s game the last one ever in San Diego for the Chargers, who have called the SD-area home since 1961. There will likely be a lot of tears and lots of emotion in the stadium on Sunday, which could make for a surprisingly tough final game for the Chiefs, who obviously have their own reasons to try to play well.
San Diego Chargers Season Record: 5-10, last place in the AFC West
Even though teams like Cleveland and San Francisco have worse records than San Diego, there’s probably no team in the league that’s had a more frustrating season than the Chargers.
San Diego will come into Sunday’s finale with 10 losses, and nine of those were games that finished with the Chargers within one score. Maybe it was a field goal or less. Maybe it was a touchdown, or possibly a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but nine times this season, San Diego has walked off the field a loser in a game where they had a chance at the end to possibly win.
Even the Chargers’ first game against Kansas City was like that, all the way back on opening day, when San Diego jumped out to a 21-3 lead on the Chiefs and then led 27-10 early in the fourth quarter, before KC rallied to tie the score and send the game into overtime. Then after stalling out on their first drive of overtime, the Chargers could only watch as the Chiefs marched down the field to win the game on 2-yard run by Alex Smith.
And unfortunately for San Diego, that day turned out to be a precursor for the Chargers’ entire 2016 season, which has seen nothing but tough loss after tough loss. That inlcludes perhaps that squad’s most embarrassing defeat: Last week’s 20-17 loss in Cleveland, which gave the previously 0-14 Browns their first win of the season.
San Diego Chargers on Offense:
Despite all its troubles winning games this year, San Diego has continued to be one of the league’s top offensive teams. The Chargers rank 16th overall, which is exactly middle-of-the-pack, in total offense. But San Diego does rank 10th in points scored (25.5 points per game) and sixth in passing (261.9 yards per game).
Quarterback Philip Rivers, in his 13th season with the Chargers out of North Carolina State, has had a brilliant year, with 4,117 passing yards (fifth-most in the league) and 31 touchdown passes (fourth-most in the league).
The one problem Rivers has had is with interceptions, where he leads the league with 19. Still, Rivers has a history of lighting up the Chiefs in the past and with Sunday’s game possibly being the last one ever in San Diego, it might make sense for the 35-year old veteran to want to go out with a bang.
San Diego Chargers on Defense:
Defensively, the Chargers haven’t been very bad either.
Overall, San Diego ranks 14th in total yards allowed, and 10th and 19th in rushing and passing yards allowed, respectively. The Chargers haven’t been very good at stopping people from scoring points. Even if they were able to limit an opponent’s yardage totals, the Chargers haven’t kept teams out of the end zone, and that’s why they’ve lost so much this year.
San Diego’s top player on defense has been fifth-year cornerback Casey Hayward, who leads the Chargers and the entire NFL with seven interceptions this season.
San Diego Chargers Players to Watch:
The key figure on Sunday will be Rivers. There were many rumors and even several published articles stating that Rivers considered retiring after last season.
He’s played a long time and he knew the Chargers weren’t going to be particularly good this year, so the rumors were that he thought about not coming back. Now with the strong possibility that the club will be moving away from San Diego following this season, rumors have begun to surface again that Rivers might want to call it quits following his final game in the only professional home he’s ever known.
Sunday’s going to be an emotional day in San Diego, and the Chargers are going to want to put on a final show for the San Diego fans in what could be the last game ever at Qualcomm Stadium.
That said, the Chiefs are playing magnificent football right now and are in prime position to win the AFC West. They do need some help in the form of a Raiders loss, but Oakland has to play Denver this week, and they have to do it with their star quarterback injured.
That’s going to be a tall order for the Raiders, so they’ll probably lose that game. And that’s going to mean if the Chiefs can somehow get out of San Diego with a win, they would win the West and earn a bye week with one less game to have to win to possibly make it to Super Bowl 51.
That’s probably the scenario that’s going to play out. Prediction: Kansas City 26, San Diego 23