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NFL Preview - San Diego (0-0) at Kansas City (0-0)



By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The final two teams to take the field for Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season, the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, have to be anxious to get going in a way that makes their late-Monday time slot all the more frustrating.

The AFC West rivals, who will kick off at Arrowhead Stadium for the first leg of their annual home-and-home, both enter the 2010 campaign with a great deal to prove.

The visiting Chargers have been one of the AFC's esteemed teams of late, reeling off four consecutive West division titles as well as four seasons of 11 or more wins in the last six years. But the altered complexion of the roster in the offseason has led to some questions about the Bolts' staying power, and San Diego is eager to show that as far as winning is concerned, it's a "same as it ever was" situation.

Gone is LaDainian Tomlinson, the leading rusher in team history and a major part of the team's identity over the past decade. Also absent on Monday will be Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is serving a three-game suspension for a violation of the NFL personal conduct policy and is also involved in a much-publicized contract dispute with the team. Left tackle Marcus McNeill, who has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender or report to the team, is another glaring absence.

Defensively, former mainstays such as nose tackle Jamal Williams (now a Bronco) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (a Jet) are gone, and former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is a major question mark for Monday due to an Achilles problem.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be trying to prove more that they can break from a dubious recent past than cling to any sort of winning tradition.

Kansas City, which has gone a combined 10-38 over the past three seasons, made some of its biggest offseason headlines by introducing assistant coaches with a winning pedigree.

New coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense) take over their respective sides of the ball in Kansas City on Monday night, and head coach Todd Haley hopes that their tutelage can pay immediate dividends for the once-proud franchise.

From a personnel standpoint, offensive weapons Thomas Jones (ex-Jets) and rookie Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss) are expected to breathe some life into an inconsistent offensive attack, and it is hoped that rookie free safety Eric Berry (Tennessee) can inject a long-sought-after playmaking element to the defense.

SERIES HISTORY

Kansas City holds a 50-48-1 lead in a regular season series with San Diego that dates back to 1960, when the Chiefs franchise was known as the Dallas Texans and the Chargers resided in Los Angeles. The Chargers have won five straight in the series, including home-and-home sweeps of the Chiefs in each of the last two years. San Diego notched a 37-7 win when they visited Kansas City in Week 7 of last year, and completed the sweep with a 43-14 thrashing at Qualcomm Stadium in Week 12. The Chiefs last defeated the Chargers in 2007, when they came up a 30-16 winner in their trip to Qualcomm. A win on Monday will give the Bolts their first six-game winning streak over the Chargers since 1979-81.

San Diego is 3-0 at Arrowhead Stadium since last losing there in 2006, and with a win on Monday will have its first four-game winning streak in Kansas City since 1974-77.

In addition to their regular season history, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Chargers scoring a 17-0 home victory over the Chiefs in a 1992 AFC First-Round Playoff.

Chargers coach Norv Turner is 5-6 against the Chiefs as a head coach, including 5-1 since taking over in San Diego. Kansas City's Haley is 0-2 against both Turner and the Chargers as a head coach.

WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL

The departure of Tomlinson might have been viewed as a bigger deal if this team hadn't been going a pass-first direction behind Philip Rivers (4254 passing yards, 28 TD, 9 INT) over the past two seasons anyway. Rivers has back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons on his resume', and brings a lofty record of 46-18 into the opener. But the absence of Jackson could make life somewhat difficult for the former first-rounder. The situation puts more pressure on the likes of outside targets Malcom Floyd (45 receptions, 1 TD) and Legedu Naanee (24 receptions, 2 TD), with recently acquired ex-Cowboy Patrick Crayton (37 receptions, 5 TD with Dallas) expected to play a meaningful role on Monday as well. Rivers' primary target, as usual, figures to be tight end Antonio Gates (79 receptions, 8 TD). All of that said, the running game will be a big part of the storyline as well for San Diego, with first-round rookie RyanMathews (Fresno State) making his formal NFL debut and the trusty Darren Sproles (343 rushing yards, 45 receptions, 7 TD) back to complement him. The effectiveness of the running game could hinge on the work of an o-line that features youngsters like left guard Louis Vasquez and left tackle Brandyn Dombrowski.

Crennel takes the reins of a Kansas City defense that is long on promise but has come up short in the results department, finishing 30th in the league in yards allowed last year. The Chiefs must have a better effort from the front wall of its 3-4 scheme, with former top five picks Glenn Dorsey (54 tackles, 1 sack) and Tyson Jackson (38 tackles) needing to finally live up to their billing up there. Inside linebackers Demorrio Williams (117 tackles) and Corey Mays (85 tackles) will also bear a great deal of responsibility for slowing Mathews and Sproles on Monday. When Rivers drops back to throw it, a deficient pass rush led by veterans Mike Vrabel (53 tackles, 2 sacks) and Tamba Hali (62 tackles, 8.5 sacks) must show the ability to provide some pressure. On the back end, Berry will look to make some plays from his safety role, with cornerbacks Brandon Carr (62 tackles, 1 INT) and Brandon Flowers (65 tackles, 5 INT) responsible for slowing Floyd, Naanee and the wideouts.

WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL

Though Weis is responsible for increasing the proficiency of the entire offense, no area is going to come under more scrutiny than the work the ex- Notre Dame coach does with quarterback Matt Cassel (2924 passing yards, 16 TD, 16 INT). The handsomely-paid Cassel did little to live up to his rich contract last season, though certainly he wasn't aided much by a weak corps of linemen and receivers. He'll be seeking greater chemistry in 2010 with the likes of Dwayne Bowe (47 receptions, 4 TD) and ex-Charger Chris Chambers (36 receptions, 4 TD), and the miniature McCluster has a chance to make his quarterback look good as well. The distribution of the backfield carries will be worth monitoring on Monday, as Jamaal Charles (1120 rushing yards, 40 receptions, 8 TD) comes off a breakout season but Jones (1402 rushing yards, 14 TD with the Jets) was brought in during free agency to push him. McCluster, a college running back, could also garner some carries. The only truly new face up front is right guard Ryan Lilja, a 16-game starter for the Indianapolis Colts a year ago.

Though the Chargers did not make wholesale changes defensively in the offseason, there will be a couple of altered areas of this unit to watch in Week 1. One is at cornerback, where Cromartie's departure places 2008 first- round pick Antoine Cason (41 tackles, 2 INT) into a prominent role opposite mainstay Quentin Jammer (58 tackles, 3 INT). Safeties Eric Weddle (82 tackles, 2 INT, 1.5 sacks) and Steve Gregory (66 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) will be called on for support. Then there is the line, where the team is listing fourth-year former reserve Antonio Garay (4 tackles) as its starting nose tackle. Garay's play will have an impact on fellow linemen Luis Castillo (25 tackles, 2 sacks) and Jacques Cesaire (26 tackles, 1 sack), as well as inside linebackers Stephen Cooper (102 tackles) and Kevin Burnett (66 tackles, 2.5 sacks). The determining factor in the strength of the Chargers' defense, when all is said and done, is likely to be a pass rush that took a step back last year. The team needs Merriman (36 tackles, 4 sacks) to get back to his former menacing ways, and must have a more substantial contribution from fellow outside linebackers Shaun Phillips (59 tackles, 7 sacks) and Larry English (36 tackles, 2 sacks) as well.

FANTASY FOCUS

Many fantasy players will stay up late to see how this game impacts their Week 1 results. Owners of Rivers, Mathews, Gates and kicker Nate Kaeding will undoubtedly use them in this contest. Even with Merriman out or at less than 100 percent, the Chargers defense looks like a good play against a Chiefs offense still trying to find itself. Using either of the team's starting receivers, Floyd and Naanee, represents a roll of the dice

Not much to recommend on the Kansas City side in Week 1. No one is quite sure whether Charles or Jones is going to be the go-to running back in this offense, and although Chambers and Bowe have previously held fantasy value, you'll want to get a read on their chemistry with Cassel and place in Weis' offense before you use them in 2010.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Chargers punished the Chiefs in two 2009 matchups, and there isn't enough that has changed since they most recently faced off last Nov. 29 to suggest these teams are anything resembling equals now. Kansas City is making progress toward being competitive, but this still-developing team will not look its best in Week 1. The Chargers are light years more talented than the Chiefs, and Kansas City's only hope is that San Diego does its typical early-season-under- Norv Turner sleepwalking act and keeps the Chiefs in the game. Even if that happens, look for the Chargers to wake up in time to pull away in the fourth quarter.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 27, Chiefs 15

09/10 15:21:53 ET

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