Two of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL are coming off gut-wrenching outcomes to their Week 2 contests, and the stage is set for an AFC West-shaping matchup when reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert leads the Los Angeles Chargers against former NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. It stands to be one hell of a clash in Week 3 considering the narrow point differential of the four games played between the two clubs.
The Chargers are 1-1 after having won by four points in the regular season opener against the Washington Football Team and losing by three points to the Dallas Cowboys in the final seconds of regulation last Sunday. The Chiefs narrowly escaped the Cleveland Browns with a four-point comeback victory in Week 1 and followed that with a one-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens, punctuated by former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson converting a fourth-and-1 to send them to 1-1 on the young season.
With the Las Vegas Raiders off to a hot 2-0 start, it's now about keeping pace with them atop the AFC West, and the loser of this fight will find themselves below .500 and on a two-game losing streak in a super-competitive division race. Will Herbert steal one from Mahomes on the road? Or will the teacher show the student he still has much to learn?
The loser of this game will fall to last place in the division, so tune in for what should be an electric matchup.
How to watch
Herbert went 1-1 against the Chiefs in his rookie year, throwing for 613 yards and four touchdowns to only one interception, so the Kansas City defense -- which ranks bottom five in the league with 32.5 points allowed per game -- can't afford to take his youth for granted. What's worse is how the Chiefs are literally getting run over by opposing halfbacks, which only deepens the concern for stopping the Chargers. Austin Ekeler is looking to bounce back from a challenging outing against the Cowboys, and Kansas City has the worst-ranked run defense in the entire NFL, allowing an average of 202 yards per game on the ground. If they can't contain Ekeler and the Los Angeles backfield, it'll open up the gates for Herbert to carve up the secondary, as he did in 2020.
That puts the onus on a Chiefs defensive front led by two-time All-Pro Chris Jones (who is nursing a wrist injury) and two-time Pro Bowler Frank Clark, along with Jarran Reed (acquired in 2021 free agency) and Derrick Nnadi, though Nnadi is fighting a hip injury. You can presume safety Tyrann Mathieu will find a way to change the game, but he's going to need a massive amount of help, and it will have to come from Mahomes and the offense.
If the Chiefs can force Joey Bosa into a second consecutive poor showing, it'll give Mahomes a chance to do what he does best: improvise and torture opposing defenses. From there, they'll want to keep the Chargers defense honest with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who desperately wants to overcome his late-game fumble in Week 2 that likely cost the Chiefs a win. Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will have the formula to take this victory, but it will probably go to the wire -- something both teams are becoming accustomed to this season.
Key matchup to watch
With Bosa missing the first practice of the week due to a foot/ankle injury, and coming off of a game that saw him log zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries against a backup swing tackle in Terence Steele, put a red circle around the All-Pro pass rusher for the coming Week 3 fight in Kansas City. As it stands, it's not expected Bosa will miss this game, but if he's less than 100% when he takes the field, getting his hands on Mahomes will be exponentially more difficult.
Keep an eye on Bosa versus a rebuilt Chiefs offensive line that has allowed only two sacks in two games. If he and the Chargers can't pressure Mahomes, it'll be a very long day for them.
Expect a close one you won't be able to look away from, with the offense of both teams having their way at times. But in the end, Mahomes at home is just different, especially when a loss would make his team the worst in the division approaching October.
Pick: Chiefs 35, Chargers 30
Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 3.