Jamaal Charles tore his ACL for the second time in four years in October, sidelining the 29-year-old running back for the Kansas City Chiefs’ final 11 regular season games and the playoffs. Coach Andy Reid said it would be a "stretch" for him to play in Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers, meaning Spencer Ware should replace the four-time Pro Bowl honoree to take a majority of the carries ahead of Charcandrick West, who is also recovering from injury.
In 11 games last season, Ware ran for 403 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and six touchdowns. Against the Chargers last season, the Chiefs won twice, with Ware running for a pair of touchdowns and 148 yards on just 19 carries. Kansas City outscored San Diego by a two-game total of 43-6.
The Chargers might have some added help on the defensive side if their No. 3 overall pick, Joey Bosa, is ready to go, but that’s seeming unlikely. The Ohio State product held out of workouts for four weeks in search of a fair contract that was eventually signed on Aug. 29. With the missed time from training camp and sitting out of practice earlier in the week with tightness his impact on the game if he does play is in question.
The Chargers will need to find a way to pressure Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith better to pull off what would be an early-season upset. The second-most careful quarterback in terms of interception percentage over the last four seasons threw for a career-high 3,486 yards last season and 20 touchdowns. His best option, Jeremy Maclin, is back after leading the team in receiving yards with a career-best, and most ever by a Chief, 1,088 on 87 receptions for eight touchdowns.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen also will be back after missing the second half of last season with a kidney laceration. Philip Rivers’ top option caught 67 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in the eight games last year and should a bright spot in the San Diego offense. The 24-year-old will look to better his Week 1 performance from last season when he caught 15 passes for 166 yards. He’ll be defended heavily by last season’s leader in interceptions, Marcus Peters, though. The Defensive Rookie of the Year picked off eight passes and deflected an additional 26.
Rivers threw for the second-most yardage in the league last season at 4,792, but needs more help from his running backs. San Diego ranked 31st in the league last season in total rushing yards and only scored three touchdowns.
The Chargers will attempt to supplement their passing game with sophomore Melvin Gordon’s play on the ground. As a rookie, the former No. 15 pick and Wisconsin Badger ran for 641 yards, though he never crossed the end zone. They’ll also use Danny Woodhead, their leader in receiving yards by the end of last season. Because of Allen’s injury, his role increased, and he led all running backs with 80 receptions for 755 yards and scored all three of the team’s rushing touchdowns.
Sunday's game will be a chance for San Diego to stop Kansas City’s four-game head-to-head winning streak.
How to watch Chargers vs. Chiefs on Sunday
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Online Streaming: Sunday Ticket