Chargers and Chiefs catch the eye in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season

Chargers and Chiefs catch the eye in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season

The NFL waits for no one. That’s why, to my thinking, the Kansas City Chiefs’ visit to the cozy StubHub Centre to take on division rival San Diego [still doing it] Los Angeles Chargers is the must-see game in the 2018 season’s opening week.

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The Chiefs won the AFC West and went to the playoffs in 2017. They lost a nailbiter to the Tennessee Titans in the wildcard. Fair or not, the defeat was the final nail in quarterback Alex Smith’s Arrowhead career coffin. The ex-49er completed 29/33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans, but his immobility hurt the team. He was sacked four times. His strength is the short-passing game, too. Kansas City couldn’t stretch the field in the second half.

On the other side of the ball, Marcus Mariota’s agility paid dividends. Rolling to his left, the Titan’s third-year signal-caller caught his own deflected pass then ran it in for a morale-crushing score. It’s little wonder the Chiefs traded Smith to the Washington Redskins and shoved all their chips in on sophomore QB Pat Mahomes’ bionic arm.

The Chargers finished second in the division but their 9-7 record didn’t rate a playoff berth. It’s a new season, however. Observers are lavishing crazy love on the Bolts in the early doors. CBS Sports rates Anthony Lynn’s squad far better than the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. Charlie Red, the man whose name graces the masthead at the top of this page, expects the Chargers “to do big things.

Phillip Rivers and the LA Chargers are trending up ahead of the 2018 NFL season.

Phillip Rivers and the LA Chargers are trending up ahead of the 2018 NFL season.

Phillip Rivers remains the man behind center. After missing out by three measly yards in 2016, Mel Gordon’s now officially a thousand-yard rusher after racking up 1,105 and eight TDs in 2017. He also contributed 476 receiving yards with another four scores for good measure. Gordon’s presence relieves pressure for the veteran QB who’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards in every season [excepting 2012] since 2008. His 26 touchdowns in the off-year were his worst over the same stretch, as well. When the Chargers’ ground game lags, though, the NC State alum’s interception rate goes through the roof.

Rivers must be licking his chops at the news that Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry’s doubtful with a heel injury for this game. Brandon Mebane and Isaac Rochel on the left side of the Chargers D-line have to be looking forward to testing Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvarney-Tardif, fresh from concussion protocol. Meanwhile, the Chiefs can exploit defensive end Joey Bosa’s absence.

Andy Reid’s a far more experienced coach than Anthony Lynn, which must count for something. Still, the younger man can rely on veteran coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley, both former head coaches in the league. Reid has a seasoned defensive coordinator in Bob Sutton but is taking a gamble on Eric Bieniemy. The former University of Colorado star brings extensive experience as a running backs coach both with the Chiefs and Buffaloes, but just two seasons directing the entire offense in Boulder. A new quarterback and an untested coordinator don’t bode well for KC to start the campaign. Bieniemy at least has a 1,300-yd Pro Bowl rusher to take some pressure off the passing game.

Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy may ask who needs to throw the ball if the Chargers can't stop your Pro Bowl running back?

Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy may ask who needs to throw the ball if the Chargers can’t stop your Pro Bowl running back?

In 2017, the new Angelinos weren’t able to exploit their compact surroundings. After a season to acclimate and an off-season to improve, maybe they can surprise opponents with an outsized game. They’ll be getting after the Chiefs today, that much is certain. But Kansas City’s out to prove they don’t deserve to be written off so easily.

Enjoy.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

Would you rather have Kirk Cousins or Jack Reacher under center?

Would you rather have Kirk Cousins or Jack Reacher under center?

So, because free is good and so is the view, we’re sitting in the seventh floor Creation Station at the Main Library. Our workspace could be a booth at a posh restaurant: high-backed soft chairs, a large table between us with room for two laptops, two cellies, our beverages of choice and whatever else we need. There’s floor-to-ceiling windows with a northern view from downtown. It’s not a big downtown but luxury apartments are springing up like zombies in Fallout when you’re down to your last few hit points.  Like I said, it’s a good view.

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The one difference between the Creation Station and a Longhorns, other than having to bring your own food and drink, is that the soft, comfy chairs come with outlets and USB ports. You can work after you tire of looking at all the people and traffic scurrying around seven stories below, or of waiting for another helicopter to land on the helipad atop the library’s parking garage. Most of the choppers are picking up or dropping off cash for the various banks with branches nearby. I’m just thinking there’s a Lee Child novel waiting to be written here when Charlie Red speaks up.

“What do you think about Minnesota?”

“Huh?”

“The Vikings. Do you think they’ll be any good?”

I shrug, playing for time to transition from Jack Reacher to Kirk Cousins. Safe to say, it requires taking a few steps down.

“They got Kirk Cousins now, you know.”

“Yup.”

“He’s no Teddy Bridgewater.”

“No. Odd how he’s replacing a second talented quarterback with a f***-ed up knee, though. Who’d have thought that was a thing?”

Charlie laughs. “Yeah, but I just don’t think he can do it. He doesn’t have the talent.”

Teddy Bridgewater opted to go to the New York Jets after the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins.

“Well, there’s two things. One, everybody else jumped ship. Well, not Bridgewater. He left after Cousins arrived. Probably thought he had a better chance of taking Josh McCown’s job with the Jets.  Sam Bradford signed with Arizona as soon as he could. Case Keenum was on his way to Denver at the same time. Second, Cousins is that reliable guy everyone except the Redskins likes. The safe bet. He’ll underthrow the deep ball every time, but he’ll make the right read and accurate throws underneath. Get rid of the ball when nothing’s on, too.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. Although the Vikings could go all the way if that kid Dalvin Cook can stay out of trouble.”

“You think he’s the next Ezekiel Elliott?”

“What I’m sayin’. They just can’t expect Cousins to do it on his own.”

“Well, an elite running back can cover up for a secondhand quarterback. So can a great defense. Mike Zimmer’s got that in Minnesota.”

“He does.”

“Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with Baltimore.”

“He sure enough did.”

“Trent effin’ Dilfer.”

“I’m sayin’.”

“Mm-hm.”

“So, whaddya think? Will Minnesota go all the way?”

“Man, I don’t know. I’m trying to write the great American novel.”

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.