Now with a 7-2 record — and the lead in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed — everything is looking good for the Kansas City Chiefs. But on Sunday, they face a tough test against the Los Angeles Chargers — a familiar foe that always plays them close. Still, the opportunity is exciting. With a victory, Kansas City can put the AFC West almost completely out of reach for any of its rivals — something that nobody thought would be possible at this point in the season.
Here are a few Chiefs who might be trending up (or down) going into Week 11’s game.
Right guard Trey Smith: After struggling in a big way against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9, he was fantastic during Sunday’s 27-17 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars — and it’s no coincidence that the running game was back to being effective. In short yardage (and when he’s the pulling guard), the Chiefs love to run the ball behind Smith. When he’s serving up pancakes, it doesn’t matter which running back is in the game; they are likely to rack up yardage. Watch to see if he’s able to dominate against the Chargers. It could be the difference between Kansas City fielding a balanced, effective offense — or one that will struggle.
Tight end Noah Gray: The Chiefs might have found not only their No. 2 tight end, but also a secret weapon in the passing game. Gray hasn’t been putting up huge numbers, but he’s made some key plays over the past couple of weeks. He also looks much improved as a blocker — and is an important special-teams contributor. Can he continue to be an under-the-radar part of this offense? If so, the Chiefs will be facing a real dilemma when Blake Bell returns from injury. For now, watch out for No. 83 when quarterback Patrick Mahomes absolutely has to have a first down. Gray might once again find a way to get it done.
Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders: By nearly every statistical measure, this fourth-year player is outperforming starter Derrick Nnadi. Saunders has arguably been better as a run defender — and certainly more effective while rushing the passer. In the last three games, he’s logged three sacks to go along with his nine pressures on the season. He’s in a contract year and has a new defensive line coach — both of which seem to be motivating him to a new level of play. Let’s see if the big guy can keep his streak alive against the Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert — because on Sunday, pressure from the four-man pass rush will be one of the keys to winning the game.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney, cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams, linebacker Leo Chenal, defensive tackle Chris Jones and running back Isiah Pacheco.
Right tackle Andrew Wylie: It’s not that the fifth-year pro played poorly against the Jaguars. While he was in the game, the pass protection was much better than it had been in Week 9. Here’s the problem: there was no drop-off when Prince Tega Wanogho — with only 19 previous offensive snaps in his career — came in after Wylie was injured. With the exception of fullback Michael Burton’s run — where he was beaten quickly — Wanogho played above the standard we’ve seen at right tackle this season. If Wylie can be replaced without the offense missing a beat, could that open the door for some real competition at the spot? Wylie is practicing this week, so he may have a shot to play — but it will be interesting to see if he can hold onto his starting job much longer.
Linebacker Darius Harris: Lately, Kansas City’s linebackers have been asserting themselves — and the rotation is becoming more clear. Nick Bolton and Willie Gay, Jr. remain at the top; both are playing at a high level. That has pushed Harris down the depth chart a bit — but rookie Leo Chenal’s emergence might be what relegates Harris to only a special-teams role. On Sunday, Chenal appeared much improved. If that trend continues, we might soon see Harris on Kansas City’s gameday inactive list.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: We’ve talked about him a lot, but the trend continues for the second-round rookie. Moore’s season has not yet gotten off the ground — and it’s not clear when that will happen. With Mecole Hardman out against Jacksonville, Kadarius Toney was a revelation — and his role is likely to grow on Sunday night. Mahomes is having a phenomenal season while spreading the ball around to so many players — but when he targets Moore, bad things seem to happen. Hopefully, that turns around in Week 11 — but I’m not holding my breath.
Others trending in the wrong direction: placekicker Harrison Butker, fullback Michael Burton, defensive end Malik Herring and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
Value (sleeper) pick: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The running-back-by-committee thing can be frustrating. Whether it’s costing some of us fantasy matchups or causing the team to be wildly inconsistent running the football, Kansas City just doesn't seem to have its running game quite figured out. After he and the rest of the backs were stymied against the Titans, Edwards-Helaire didn’t get a single carry against Jacksonville. Still, he’s put together four pretty good games this season — including the game against the Chargers in Week 2. He’s found the end zone six times while averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 8.9 yards per catch. But after his impressive performance against Jacksonville, Isiah Pacheco also has four good games — and a 4.7 yards per carry average. Recency bias aside, these two backs have been similarly effective this season. The difference is that when they actually use him, Edwards-Helaire offers much more in the passing game. It’s far too soon to count him out of this rotation. In fact, I think there’s a chance he’s back to being the lead back on Sunday night. The pendulum will swing back in his direction. The only question is when it will happen.