SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 22: Eddie Royal (L) #11 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates a touchdown by teammate Keenan Allen (R) in the second half against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on December 22, 2013 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Raiders 26-13. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Before the 2013 NFL season started, Las Vegas oddsmakers put the Chargers' projected win total at 7.5 wins. So, at 8-7, the Bolts have already exceeded expectations.
Now, if they can get to 9-7, and even get in to the playoffs, they will have done it during one of the strangest seasons I have ever seen.
How, exactly, would you explain how the Chargers have beaten the Broncos on the road, and lost to the Texans at home? I don't know if any team in history has beaten the team with the league's best record while losing to the team with the league's worst record in the same season, but I would bet it's happened fewer times than Zsa Zsa Gabor has been married.
The Chiefs, locked in to the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs, appear to be resting their starters, if not for the entire game, at least for a majority of it.
"Right now everybody's practiced, ready to play," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on Friday. "First team, second team, they're all ready to play and we'll go let the chips fall where they may."
Reid also says he has a plan and has talked to the team about it, and typically you don't have to address the team unless you are changing the status quo, so expect Kansas City to treat the season finale as pre-season game number 5.
That being said, KC has some impressive depth, and while they won't put their best team on the field, they won't be a walkover. Just think back to 2009, when the Chargers sat most of their first-stringers in the season finale and still beat the Redskins.
So, for perhaps (but hopefully not) the final time this season, here are three players to watch for on Sunday.
Keenan Allen, WR:
He should have the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award wrapped up, but one more good week would eliminate any doubt percolating in the minds of voters on the East coast who forget San Diego has a professional football team. Allen is 43 yards short of 1,000 on the season. In the last 25 years, only eight rookies have cracked the century mark in receiving yards (among them A.J Green, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin). Keenan's yardage numbers have dropped lately because defenses have realized how dangerous he is and are paying extra attention to him. Allen has just five catches for 55 yards over the last two weeks, but three of those catches have been for touchdowns. In the first meeting with the Chiefs, Allen caught nine passes for 124 yards. If he gets anywhere near that, the Chargers will again have a great shot at a win, and the rookie will have a lovely trophy to stick in his house.
Melvin Ingram, OLB:
Super Melvin was activated three weeks ago. Since then the Chargers have gone 3-0, allowing just 14 points a game. Ingram is not yet 100% in football shape, but he brings an energy to the defense that is immediate and immense. Ingram made his first start of the season last Sunday against the Raiders, recording three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He has gotten better every week, and now that he'll likely be going against second-string linemen and backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who has thrown all of 17 passes in his 5-year career, expect Ingram to have a major impact in the passing game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get multiple sacks.
Nick Novak, K:
Novak made all four of his field goal attempts against the Raiders, giving him 32 made kicks this season. That's tied for the second-most in franchise history (Nate Kaeding also made 32 in 2009, the last year the Chargers made the playoffs). The Chargers record is 34 field goals, set by John Carney in 1994 (the only year the Chargers went to the Super Bowl). Novak could very well tie or break that record, and how fitting would it be if he did it in another year the Bolts make a run to the playoffs?
The Chiefs only have one goal in this game: get out healthy and ready for the playoffs. Winning would be a complete bonus, and not one they are putting too much effort in to reaching. So, regardless of what happens with the early games (whatever happens to the Ravens and Dolphins), I think the Chargers' motivation to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2010, along with the potential for some individual milestones, will win out.
Final score: Chargers 37, Chiefs 13