On Thanksgiving weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs continue their assault on southern California as they face the Los Angeles Rams on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
These two teams could not be headed in more opposite directions. The Rams have lost four straight — and six out of the last seven. The Chiefs have won four straight — and yes, six out of their last seven. The Rams will be without their quarterback and his backup, forcing them to play their third-string guy who runs better than he throws. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will start MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes.
While this should be a lopsided game in favor of the home team, the reigning Super Bowl champions shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are a few Chiefs who are trending ahead of the Week 12 matchup.
Offensive linemen Orlando Brown and Trey Smith: Much of the talk this week was — rightfully so — about Isiah Pacheco. Rhyming aside, the Kansas City running game depends as much (or more) on the guys up front than the guys toting the rock. Last Sunday, Brown, Smith and company were able to do what they do best: maul people in the running game. The Chiefs appeared to run more of the power-running plays that fit both their style and the skills of their running backs. As a team, they ran for 163 yards — averaging 6.0 yards per carry. This kind of balance makes the Kansas City offense much more efficient — and difficult to beat, too. The Rams present another opportunity for these guys to assert themselves on the ground — which will hopefully result in a comfortable lead.
Defensive end George Karlaftis: It’s gotta be frustrating to be this young player. On one hand, he’s playing a lot of snaps on a defensive front that has already passed last year’s sack totals; it is closing out games with lots of pressure in big situations. But while playing in a position where sacks get guys paid and recognized, Karlaftis has only half of a sack in ten games. As Ron Kopp Jr. pointed out during this week’s Arrowhead Pride Out of Structure podcast, Karlaftis has been asked to do a lot of the “dirty work” that frees up others to rush the passer. When he does get through — often against multiple blockers — Karlaftis is getting pressure at a good rate. When he doesn’t get through, he’s knocking down passes. (He leads the team with five). Karlaftis is due to stumble into a sack or two — and against the Rams and their backup-backup quarterback, it’s possible that it starts this week.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: One of the Winners from last Sunday’s game, the rookie emerged at exactly the right time. Already missing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman — and with Kadarius Toney leaving early with an injury — quarterback Patrick Mahomes was short on proven pass-catchers. It was the perfect opportunity for Moore to remind everyone that he has the ability to be a traditional downfield wide receiver for this team. Most notable among his five-catch performance was that Mahomes targeted Moore on the final drive to get into Chargers territory and set up the winning touchdown. Watch this week to see if Skyy can still get Moore targets — whether or not the position group gets healthier.
Others trending in the right direction: cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay, Jr., defensive ends Mike Danna and Carlos Dunlap, running back Isiah Pacheco, defensive tackle Chris Jones, tight end Jody Fortson and placekicker Harrison Butker.
Running back Ronald Jones: Given that he’s been on the inactive list for every one of the first ten games, you might wonder how much further he could fall. After (surprisingly) making the team out of camp — and then not getting a shot — Jones recently tweeted about wanting a release. Meanwhile, in recent weeks, the Chiefs have been putting waiver claims on running backs released from other teams. Their interest in bolstering the position from outside should tell us all we need to know about where they think Jones fits — so if the team is successful in adding another back, Jones may just get his wish. Now that Clyde Edwards-Helaire is on injured reserve, however, Jones is expected to be active for Sunday’s game against the Rams. Here’s the trouble: what Jones does best is what Pahceco does better. I wouldn’t expect many carries for Jones on Sunday; he may be active only as insurance.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: He was just starting to get everyone excited about his potential when the issue that may have gotten him shipped out of New York popped up in Kansas City. Toney left early in the Chargers game with a hamstring injury, leaving his status for this Sunday’s game in doubt. The talent is undeniable, but availability could already be a problem for Toney. It’s not his fault for getting injured — but let’s hope that this isn’t a pattern that limits his impact with the Chiefs.
Fullback Michael Burton: On a team headed in the right direction, it’s challenging to find players who are... bearish. But when an offense is as efficient as this one, sometimes guys get left out. Burton plays a position that many don’t even see as useful in the modern game. But when he’s had chances with the Chiefs, he’s been a valuable short-yardage back. Those chances, however, have been dwindling; he hasn’t seen the ball since he was stuffed for a loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Rams have been pretty solid against the run, so Burton might still be wondering when his next carry will come.
Others trending in the wrong direction: wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, cornerback Joshua Williams and linebacker Darius Harris.
Value (sleeper) Pick: right tackle Lucas Niang
It feels like it’s been forever since Niang was on the field, but he’s finally poised to make his return. Head coach Andy Reid indicated that he’d be part of the “two-deep,” putting Niang squarely in position to compete for his former starting job. While it might not happen this week, it feels like there’s a little momentum for Niang to unseat Andrew Wylie down the stretch. Continuity is key for offensive lines, so teams don’t love making a change like this. But if Wylie struggles against the Rams — and Niang looks good in practice — his opportunity might finally be coming.