Whoever wins the clash between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night could get off to a tremendous start.
Rare is the game where two excellent teams both feel a need to make a point. Thursday night is such an occasion.
For the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, their Week 2 clash at Arrowhead Stadium is about more than an early divisional lead in an AFC West all but guaranteed to be close throughout the season. Instead, the evening is about making a statement on national television.
The Chargers have long been a sexy offseason pick, only to fall flat come autumn. Last year, Los Angeles sprinted to a 5-1 start — including a Week 3 win at Arrowhead — before coming undone. It lost late-season games to the Chiefs at home, followed by defeats against the Houston Texans and memorably, the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chargers finished 9-8, missing the playoffs.
As for Kansas City, the offseason was a time for doubt. The Chiefs traded away six-time Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill and allowed former All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu to walk in free agency. The prevailing thought in many corners was Patrick Mahomes would be diminished by the absence of Hill, while the departure of Mathieu would cripple an already suspect defense.
Then Week 1 happened.
Los Angeles stepped up and beat the Raiders, 24-19, behind three Justin Herbert touchdown passes and six sacks from the defense, including three from the newly-acquired Khalil Mack.
Simultaneously, the Chiefs went to Arizona and hung 44 points on the Cardinals, with Mahomes passing for 360 yards and five touchdowns in the largest rout of the weekend. Perhaps more notably, Kansas City’s young, revamped defense allowed seven points until garbage time.
Now, the divisional foes square off under the lights for a second AFC West meeting, with the Chiefs winning at SoFi Stadium in last year’s Week 14 overtime thriller, 33-27.
As for who this tilt is more important for? That can be argued.
The Chiefs are at home and have a hellacious schedule, including the next month, which sees dates with the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills. A loss against the Chargers, and Kansas City suddenly faces the possibility of fighting with .500 for a few weeks before the docket eases up.
A win, and suddenly the Chiefs appear invincible once more, likely to be favored for most of the aforementioned games, if not all.
For the Chargers, it’s an opportunity to once again get ahead of Kansas City as they did in 2021 and make it count this time. Los Angeles’ upcoming games aren’t as daunting, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Jacoby Brissett-led Cleveland Browns on deck before a showdown with the Denver Broncos, then contests with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons. A victory in Kansas City could mean 7-1 or even 8-0.
And yet with a loss at Arrowhead, questions will persist no matter what happens against the underbelly of the Chargers’ schedule. Are they paper tigers? Will Los Angeles wilt once more as the weather turns? Can they handle a gauntlet which, from Week 10 until the season’s end, includes six games against playoff teams from ’21, along with affairs against the Miami Dolphins, Colts and Broncos? Beat the Chiefs, and people will have far more faith.
Of course, the discourse coming out of Thursday is certain to be full of declarative statements about the fate of both teams. A loss will be seen as evidence one of these two contenders is clearly inferior to the other. A win will be proof of Super Bowl aspirations.
The truth is nothing happening in Week 2 — short of a season-altering injury — has any definitive impact on January and February. Whoever loses this game can make it up when the Chiefs and Chargers have their rematch come Week 11.
However, the victor on Thursday night will prove their point, and the confidence which comes with such a win can propel a team.
For Los Angeles and Kansas City, that boost, along with a satisfying victory over a worthy opponent, is worth plenty on its own.