Defeats for the Broncos and the Raiders in Week One meant that when the Chiefs took on the Chargers on Thursday night, there was an opportunity for both teams to take an early lead in what is looking like a contender for the most competitive Division in the NFL.
All four teams in the AFC West have attracted support from betting customers looking for the best NFL game day odds and all have a legitimate chance of going deep in the playoffs. So, it was a big deal for the Chiefs that they finished with a 27-24 win in a tight and fascinating game. But besides the result, the game also gave us some more clues about the season ahead.
Short week impact
This was a short week for both teams, and it showed. Both sets of players looked a little flat. The Chiefs had a rough first half hour, featuring cautious play calling and limited touches for the new wide receiver group of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore. After their dominant performance against the Cardinals in Week One, this was a much poorer effort, and the same applies to the Chargers who were significantly more conservative than had been expected.
The sluggish performance from both teams is a useful reminder that even the best teams find it tricky to cope with a short week, something that fans, bettors and analysts need to keep in mind.
Chiefs’ depth crucial
It is no secret that the Chiefs were focused on adding depth to the roster during the offseason, and the trading of Tyreek Hill was the main example, as the team attempted to pivot to youth and depth. The money they saved was spent on a variety of young picks and some of those players came good when it mattered against the Chargers, which is a very promising sign.
Justin Watson was perhaps the pick of those newcomers, scoring a vital touchdown after Mecole Hardman was forced off the field. Seventh-round pick Jaylen Watson also made a huge impact with an eye-catching pick-six when the Chargers were at the three-yard line. The early signs are that the offseason business has made the Chiefs stronger.
Chargers’ strategy looks good
The dominance of the Chiefs in this Division has led all three of the other teams, including the Chargers, to go for broke in their offseason business with major signings. So far, we haven’t seen how well Davante Adams at the Raiders or Russell Wilson at the Broncos will work out, but there was plenty of evidence on Thursday that the Chargers have made some shrewd moves in the offseason.
Those signings included Khalil Mack, JC Jackson, Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Bryce Callahan. Mack in particular has already started to reward his new team. He was dominant in Week One, recorded three sacks against Derek Carr and maintained that level against the Chiefs, linking up with Joey Bosa to form an impressive pass-rushing duo. Many of the other new players also produced key plays during the game, and that suggests that the ‘go for broke’ approach could work as well for the Chargers as it has for their LA rivals.
Tommy Townsend bonus
It’s the nature of the game that special teams and their coaches are overlooked, but the Chiefs have one of the strongest special teams groups in the NFL, and in Tommy Townsend they have a young talent who is continuing to develop into one of the league’s best punters.
Harrison Butker is obviously first in the pecking order thanks to his combination of power and accuracy, and he has regularly stepped up on the big plays when the Chiefs need him most, but Townsend is fast becoming a key player for Kansas City.
On Thursday, he was called upon more than the Chiefs would have liked, but he did his job reliably and in impressive style. His punting was key to giving his team time and space to find their feet and build some confidence. The distance on his kicks – including a 74-yard bomb, combined with the impressive hang time, gave the Chiefs every chance to get into solid positions. On a tough night when things were not going according to plan, that was vital.
Good punting won’t win many games, but unreliable or weak punters can cost a team. Having such a reliable and powerful punter to call upon adds extra security and depth to the Chiefs’ gameplan, and with more development to come, Townsend is turning out to be a great bonus for Kansas City.