The Los Angeles Chargers have chased the Kansas City Chiefs all year since losing the season-opening game between the rivals. On Thursday night, they get the chance to catch the AFC West leaders when the teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
The Chiefs (11-2) lead the Chargers (10-3) by one game in the division. Both teams are also vying for the best record in the AFC with three games to go. The Chargers have a commanding lead in the AFC wild-card race.
In recent years, the Chiefs have frustrated quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Rivers has thrown 14 interceptions and nine touchdown passes against Kansas City in the last nine meetings.
But Rivers turned in arguably his best performance against the Chiefs in five years during the Chargers' 38-28 loss in September, completing 34 of 51 passes for 424 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
"He had a few yards last time we played them I think if I remember correctly there," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "In the fourth quarter, he had a ton of them."
The Chiefs have forced Rivers into turnovers in eight of their last nine games, but Sutton is still concerned about stopping the veteran. Despite Rivers' struggles against the Chiefs, no quarterback has more wins against them in the past 20 years.
"I think he's probably playing right now as well as he's ever played," Sutton said. "I think he's a dynamic guy. I've said this about him a lot, for whatever reason, he doesn't get mentioned with some of these other quarterbacks. His numbers and his importance to his team are second to none."
The same could be said of Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs young quarterback. In his second career start, he led Kansas City to the victory over Los Angeles in the opener with 256 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is well aware of Mahomes' ability. Both of them went to Texas Tech, and Lynn said he had many conversations with former Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury about the 23-year-old.
"What he's doing now doesn't surprise me at all," Lynn said, referring to Mahomes' 4,300 passing yards and 43 touchdowns in the first 13 games of the season. "He's a heck of a football player, and he's just playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Neither team played much defense in the season-opening shootout in Los Angeles, but that should change Thursday night in Kansas City. The Chargers were missing defensive end Joey Bosa, whom Lynn said finally has no limitations after returning from a foot injury.
"The first couple of weeks we kind of monitored his play count and last week we just turned him loose and now he's back at his normal rotation," Lynn said. "But I just believe he's getting better every game. It can't do nothing but help our defense and our football team."
The Chiefs hope to have their own defensive leader back. Safety Eric Berry hasn't played a game this season, but could see his first snaps in a limited role. They hope his presence on the field provides a shot in the arm to a defense allowing 27 points and 409.6 yards per game.
The Chargers likely will be missing some key offensive players. Running back Melvin Gordon, who has run for 13 touchdowns this season, has missed two games with a sprained knee ligament and there's no guarantee he'll play Thursday.
"He's one of our better players," Lynn said. "I'd like for him to play. But if he's not ready, he's not going to play."
Austin Ekeler, Gordon's productive backup, is also on the mend. He suffered a head injury in Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals and his status is unclear.
Ekeler did not participate in practice Tuesday while Gordon was limited.
That possibly leaves rookie Justin Jackson as the starter. Behind him is Detrez Newsome, also a rookie.
The Chargers have lost four straight at Arrowhead Stadium and their success or failure could hinge on the defense slowing down the Chiefs, who have remained explosive even after running back Kareem Hunt was let go.
"I think our guys have to be in tune for (big plays)," Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "Because every play you have to be ready because it could be the one."