Thursday Night Football: A Showdown for the AFC West Title
Cancel your plans. Rearrange your calendar. Skip the work holiday party. Tonight's Thursday Night Football game could be one we are talking about for weeks.
The fourth-ranked Los Angeles Chargers travel to Missouri to face the Kansas City Chiefs, who we have pegged fifth per our power rankings. These two teams are a combined 21-5, and the winner of this massive tilt will go a long way in determining things like home field advantage for the playoff race.
So, who will come out on top? Let's dig in and find out.
Two of the league's best quarterbacks will lead their teams into this showdown, and we could be on tap for an offensive show.
Among the 35 quarterbacks with 150 or more drop backs in 2018, in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, these have been two of the game's best. Patrick Mahomes leads the league with a 0.40 NEP per drop back mark, while Rivers ranks third with a mark of 0.38. In terms of Passing Success Rate, or the rate of plays that generate positive NEP, Rivers clocks in second (54.40%), and Mahomes checks in third (54.26%).
Both signal-callers have been pretty solid in pushing the ball downfield. In terms of Average Intended Air Yards (IAY), which measures the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts, Mahomes' mark of 9.2 IAY places him third among current starters, while Rivers is still in a solid crew with a mark of 8.0 IAY (16th).
In terms of situation-neutral pace, these are two teams that move pretty quickly. Kansas City averages 30.01 seconds per play (7th), and Los Angeles is a hair slower at 30.81 seconds per play (13th).
With neither team having a pronounced quarterbacking advantage, does anyone have a decided edge at running back?
Running Back Play
These two teams feature running attacks that have changed quite a bit in recent weeks, so let's see who may have the edge here.
Starting with the road Chargers, it looks like Justin Jackson may be the lead back, with Austin Ekeler out and Melvin Gordon a game-time decision with a knee injury. If we assume that Gordon can't take the ball, let's dive into Jackson. While has has toted the rock only 27 times this year, he has been pretty efficient over those carries, posting a Rushing NEP per carry mark of 0.13. If Gordon were to suit up, he has produced at a bit higher clip, posting a mark of 0.17.
Spencer Ware is now the lead back in KC, as Kareem Hunt was recently released. Ware has been so-so as the primary ball carrier -- over 51 carriers, he has posted a Rushing NEP per carry mark of 0.00. It is interesting to note that Damien Williams grabbed eight carries a week ago, including a goal line carry, and scored a touchdown.
Overall, here are how the numbers of Gordon, Jackson and Ware compare this year:
|Name||Rushes||Yards||Yds/Att||Rush NEP/Carry||Rush Success Rate|
With two rushing attacks that look very different than where they started the season, how do these defenses stack up?
In looking at numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics, this is a tale of two very different defenses, as the Chargers check in 12th while the Chiefs are only 26th.
In peeking in at the Chargers, they are very strong against the pass, ranking 8th, while they slide back a bit against the run, ranking 15th. For the Chiefs, they have been a pretty average defense against the pass, clocking in 16th, and are the league's second-worst defense against the run, ranking 31st.
One area where the Chiefs have the edge is in getting heat on the quarterback. In terms of Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks plus intentional grounding penalties, Kansas City ranks 10th at 8.2%, while Los Angeles has struggled in this department, ranking only 25th (6.3%).
Both teams have struggled in getting the ball back to their offenses. In terms of yards allowed per drive, the Chargers rank 19th (32.72 yards allowed per drive), while Kansas City ranks third-worst (39.16).
Kansas City has also been pretty solid in taking the ball away, ranking 8th with 21 takeaways (11 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries), whereas Los Angeles ranks 18th with 15 takeaways (12 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries).
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