Week 15 is upon us and the AFC playoff picture is taking shape ahead of a pivotal divisional showdown in Los Angeles. The Chargers play host in what is the second and final meeting (barring a playoff matchup) of the season against the Chiefs. Despite starting the season with a record of 3-4, Patrick Mahomes and the reigning conference champs have surged back to the top of the AFC as the current No. 3 seed. A loss on Thursday would not only drop them to the No. 5 seed but would also snap this team’s 6-game winning streak.
A big reason for that huge turnaround has been their defense playing exceptionally well after starting the year as a bottom-5 unit. Coincidentally enough, Kansas City has allowed a mere 17 points or fewer in 6 straight games, their longest such streak since 2013, and just as long as their current win streak is (6-0). But can this stout secondary hold up with a high-powered Charger offense with Justin Herbert at the helm? So far this season, he certainly looks scarier than Mahomes.
Herbert this season: 8-5 record, 67.1 comp pct, 294.0 pass YPG, 30 TD, 11 INT, 100.3 passer rating
Mahomes this season: 9-4 record, 65.5 comp pct, 280.2 pass YPG, 27 TD, 12 INT, 94.9 passer rating
Mahomes has Herbert on the ropes statistically speaking, but the Chargers signal-caller has big-play ability, something Mahomes hasn’t shown signs of this season. A big reason why Herbert has been able to thrive is because of the weapons around him in Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, and Keenan Allen, who will be welcomed back on a short week after being sidelined a game in COVID-19 protocols.
Allen and Williams are the only teammate duo with 900+ rec yards each this season which puts a lot of stress on a Chiefs secondary that has proven to be vulnerable at times this season. On top of that, with Guyton emerging and even tight end Jared Cook being able to make the occasional big play, this Chargers offense can cause problems for opposing defenses fast.
This surely doesn’t discredit Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense, but the team has struggled greatly on offense through their 6-game win streak. If we take out Kansas City’s two games against the Raiders (scored 41 and 48 in each respectively) the team has averaged only 18.5 PPG in the other four games combined (all home games). Meanwhile, Los Angeles has scored 37 or more points in three of their last four games (3-0 in such games) which shows that once this team gets into a rhythm, they can go nuclear and light up the scoreboard.
Quite frankly, this reality of this game though comes right back to Mahomes and Herbert. If these two AFC powerhouses have taught us anything this season, it’s that Mahomes can get the win even when he underperforms as Herbert simply can’t afford to do that. The sophomore quarterback has struggled with efficiency and airing the ball out in losses, but the most astonishing stat is his touchdown to interception ratio.
Herbert in wins: 70.4 comp pct, 321.0 pass YPG, 8.3 yds/att, 23 TD, 3 INT, 115.8 passer rtg
Herbert in losses: 61.7 comp pct, 250.8 pass YPG, 6.5 yds/att, 7 TD, 8 INT, 75.4 passer rtg
Football most certainly is a team sport, but it’s tough to ignore than when Herbert struggles the Chargers lose, and when he shows up it results in wins. So which quarterback are we going to see on Thursday night? Well, based on what the numbers suggest, it’s the one Chiefs fans hope doesn’t show up.
Herbert is 1 of 10 QBs since 1970 with a 100+ passer rating in primetime games (min. 4 starts). He is 3-1 (.750) in such games, the highest win pct among QBs. On top of that in three career games against the Chiefs, Herbert’s passer rating has been 94.4, 134.1, and 125.0 respectively, and the game that he had below a 100.0 passer rating not only was a loss but was also his first career NFL start. Herbert finds a way to win as long as he has a 100.0+ passer rating (8-0 this season).
Meanwhile, Mahomes is 15-2 (.882) in his career in the month of December (highest win pct of any QB to begin their career after the 1970 merger (min. 5 starts), but he is 4-2 in his career vs Chargers with both losses coming against Herbert.
Even if things get ugly for Los Angeles in the first half, all it takes is one play to shift the momentum and Herbert has the arm to deliver that blow. Expect a shakeup in not only the AFC West, but the playoff picture as well, and above all else, a hell of a football game.