Week 15's iteration of Thursday Night Football promises to provide entertainment in abundance. An inner-divisional showdown between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs has astounding potential. The Chiefs enter the contest on an incredible six-game win streak that has unexpectedly propelled them to the top of the AFC West. It's a position they risk losing with a defeat to the Chargers, who would claim first place in the division with a triumph on Thursday.
It will mark the second and final scheduled matchup between these two teams. The Chargers won the first meeting by a thrilling final score of 30-24. Starting quarterback Justin Herbert was in unbelievable form throughout that one, completing 26-of-38 passing attempts for 281 yards and a staggering four touchdown passes. Patrick Mahomes, meanwhile, struggled to get the better of a swarming Chargers defense that sacked him twice and forced two interceptions. A lot has changed since then, and the Chargers will encounter a surging Chiefs team that has gone through a much-needed midseason makeover.
There's no love lost between these familiar foes. The excitement will be palpable inside SoFi Stadium as first place in the division will be up for grabs. We've identified three player-versus-player matchups we’re particularly excited to monitor.
TYREEK HILL VS. MICHAEL DAVIS, COVER 2 LOOKS
The Chargers had an overwhelming amount of success against Tyreek Hill and Kansas City's offense as a whole back in Week 3. The speedy, dynamic Hill was limited to just 56 receiving yards on a measly five receptions. The Chiefs have been faced with Cover 2 coverage looks on a relatively consistent basis, and that trend will almost certainly continue on Thursday. It's the most effective strategy to employ when hoping to limit Hill's big-play ability.
Chargers cornerback Michael Davis was terrific against Hill back in September, showcasing the overall athletic traits and long speed to match Hill step-for-step on several occasions. A 6-foot-2 cover-corner out of BYU, Davis recovered a pair of fumbles in the first meeting, including a Hill cough-up that was forced by fellow corner Tevaughn Campbell. Brandon Staley will likely feel confident about what Davis has put on tape against Hill in the past and will heavily rely on a repeat performance in Los Angeles' most important game of the season.
TRAVIS KELCE VS. DERWIN JAMES/CHRIS HARRIS
Staley's defense must do a better job limiting Travis Kelce's impact on Thursday than they did back in Week 3. The Chargers ultimately won that one-score contest, but Kelce finished with team-highs in receptions (7) and yards (104). Stifling Kelce is crucial to stopping a Chiefs offense that has been firing on all cylinders since regaining their mojo.
Kelce possesses the type of talent that requires special attention, and he'll be treated as such by a common opponent. The Chargers defenders that are most likely to be tasked with eliminating Kelce from Andy Reid's game plan are Derwin James and Chris Harris. James is undeniably Los Angeles' most talented secondary player, and his physicality and athletic traits match up well with Kelce. Harris is a savvy veteran cornerback that has seen plenty of Kelce throughout his career, having played for the Denver Broncos before joining the Chargers. No member of the Chargers defense is more familiar with Kelce's tendencies than Harris is. Look for the pair of James and Harris to combine to draw most of the responsibility when it comes to Kelce.
MIKE WILLIAMS VS. CHARVARIUS WARD
*Note, Ward has since been added to the injury report with an illness and is questionable to play*
Mike Williams absolutely had his way with the Chiefs' secondary in their previous meeting, having accounted for an astounding 122 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. It represented Williams' second-highest receiving yards total of the season and one of two multi-touchdown performances. Kansas City's defense had no answer for Williams' physical mindset and big-play ability on the boundary.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has seemingly healed Kansas City's defensive woes since then, and Williams will square off with a new-look defense that's performing in a much more admirable fashion than it was back in Week 3. Williams has also considerably cooled off since then, having surpassed 100 receiving yards just once in his last eight appearances. Starting cornerback Charvarius Ward routinely draws the opposition's most talented outside receiver on a healthy basis and is experiencing a terrific campaign in 2021. We should see plenty of Williams vs. Ward on Thursday.