Five key matchups to watch for on Thursday Night Football


One of the most anticipated matchups of the 2022 NFL regular season is a few hours away as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to host AFC West rivals Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers.

It's rare that football fans get to enjoy a marquee game on Thursday night that features two of the game's best passers as well as two of its deepest rosters.

Let's take a look at how these two teams compare ahead of their clash at Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas City's offensive line vs. Chargers front seven

Protecting Mahomes is obviously priority No. 1 for the Chiefs, especially when you consider Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa anchor the Los Angeles pass rush that will be looking to add to the six sacks it collected in a Week 1 win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

Andy Reid's offense strives for a run-pass balance, and that means the Chiefs hogs up front will need to do more than just drop backward into pass protection -- they must take the fight to the Chargers and free up the running lanes for tailbacks Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isaiah Pacheco.

The more diverse Kansas City's options are on offense, the better it is for a QB like Mahomes who is still adjusting to life after WR Tyreek Hill, despite what the results of a five-touchdown performance in a win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 might say.

Travis Kelce vs. Derwin James

The highest-paid safety in the NFL takes on the game's best tight end in one of the better one-on-one matchups fans can watch this season.

Kelce is hard to contain on any given gameday so James will have his work cut out for him on short rest but he has held up against the seven-time Pro Bowl tight end in previous Charger-Chief conflicts.

In his first game after signing a record-setting contract, James led Los Angeles with six tackles. He also finished with a sack and limited Raiders TE Darren Waller to four catches.

Replacement kicker vs. a history of kicking woes

The Chargers had their most expensive offseason in franchise history signing players like J.C. Jackson away from the New England Patriots as well as re-signing some of their own players, including kicker Dustin Hopkins.

Hopkins, who missed a 49-yard field goal in Week 1, is looking to buck the curse surrounding Charger kickers but a long history of special team woes have plagued Los Angles all the way back to their days in San Diego. If the game comes down to a field goal in regulation, don't be surprised when overtime starts a few minutes later.

And that's because on the other sideline the Chiefs are dealing with their own kick trouble as starter Harrison Butker (ankle) has been ruled out for the Thursday night contest. Defensive back Justin Reid replaced him in the Chiefs' Week 1 win over Arizona but Kansas City has since opted to go with former Jets kicker Matt Ammendola as Butker's fill-in for Week 2.

Andy Reid vs. Brandon Staley

The team who wins Thursday night will sit alone atop the AFC West standings, and also have an advantage in what is expected to be a super competitive AFC playoff race.

Reid, a Super Bowl champion who has captured three conference crowns (one NFC, two AFC), is an offensive-minded head coach looking to make his third Super Bowl trip in four seasons. He clashes against the much-younger, defensive-minded Brandon Staley -- the 2022 preseason favorite for NFL Coach of the Year. 

The two coaches split last season, with Staley winning his first game against Reid at Kansas City in Week 3 and Reid returning the favor by knocking off Los Angeles 34-28 in a closely-contested battle at SoFi Stadium on Thursday night in Week 15.

Based on the 2021 results, it's hard to determine which coach holds the advantage over the other -- yet another reason why this game is so compelling.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert

What, did you think this final spot was reserved some analysis on Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Mike Williams and Josh Palmer? Not a chance!

Mahomes and Herbert are likely to repeat this dance all decade but it doesn't make the times they do face off any less compelling. These are generational passers who elevate teammates around them on each and every play.

With that said, the question that bares the most dissection is: Who will take advantage of the opposing defense's weakness more? For Mahomes, he is going against a Charger secondary that could be without Jackson again (ankle injury lists him as a game-time decision for Thursday).

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs are concerned about their depth at cornerback after losing rookie Trent McDuffie. That leaves them with just four corners on their roster heading into TNF (L'Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson). Herbert is licking his chops -- and not because he's about to eat some of the renowned Kansas City barbecue.

The Chargers QB might be without his top target in Keenan Allen but this Chiefs secondary is an injury away to having to play completely left-handed.

I'm sure no one would complain if we get a 38-35 result tonight at Arrowhead. That's where this one is heading.

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