Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs Pick & Prediction JANUARY 7th 2024

With no ground to gain in the AFC playoff picture by beating the host Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs are in preservation mode in the regular-season finale.

Well, at least partially.

Blaine Gabbert will start in place of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and multiple regulars are headed for plenty of rest in a game head coach Andy Reid said would be used as a good audition for younger players.

Gabbert said he told the team, “Go out there and have fun.”

Win or lose to the Chargers (5-11), Kansas City (10-6) owns the No. 3 seed in the AFC regardless of any outcome on the Sunday schedule. Los Angeles has lost four consecutive games and seven of its last eight.

Running back Isiah Pacheco, tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones still have a chance to get on the field, but most likely in cameos, Reid said Friday.

“Nothing finalized yet,” Reid said. “We’ll see how it all goes…how it works out.”

The Chargers aren’t going to miss Mahomes, who threw for 424 yards and four TDs in their first meeting this season. He had five TDs and no interceptions in two wins over the Chargers in 2022 and a pair of three-TD games in 2021.

Easton Stick, serving as the Chargers’ starting quarterback since Justin Herbert was placed on injured reserve with a broken finger Dec. 12, is tasked with getting the Chargers their first win in the past five games. Los Angeles is 1-7 since Nov. 6.

“This is the last one. Just trying to go out there and find a way to win, and finish this thing together,” Stick said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I’m really grateful. I’ve really enjoyed getting to go out there every single day, be in the huddle and really compete.”

Stick is taking the field again without leading receiver Keenan Allen, who was ruled out Friday. He’s dealing with a heel injury and hasn’t played since Dec. 10. Allen has 108 receptions for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns.

Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa and linebacker Kenneth Murray were also ruled out with injuries.

Among Gabbert’s goals for the game — helping Kelce get over the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth consecutive season. He’s at 984 through 16 games.

Kelce, who was inactive Week 1 with a knee injury, had a season-best 12 catches and 179 yards in Kansas City’s win over the Chargers in Week 7.

“He’s the best,” Gabbert said. “He has a rare feel for the game of football. He sees the game like a quarterback.”

Gabbert said the prolific production is a standard for not just Kelce, but the entire organization.

“If he wants to play, he’ll play. If Coach Reid says have him rest, he’s gonna rest,” Gabbert said. “Ultimately that’s on Coach Reid, but if we’re out there we’re going to do our damn best to get him 17 yards.”

Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones has literal incentive to play at Los Angeles. He can trigger a $1.25 million bonus by reaching 10 sacks for the season, and currently stands at 9.5. Another player with a history of devouring the Chargers, Jones had 4.0 of his 15.5 sacks last season against Los Angeles but sat out the first meeting this season.

Jones was back at practice Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday. He’s dealing with a groin injury and Reid indicated rest might be in the best interest of the team and Jones.

Pacheco is tied for 10th in the NFL in rushing with Tony Pollard (Cowboys) at 935 yards and chasing a goal of 1,000.

–Field Level Media

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