Patrick Mahomes says Travis Kelce proved he still has the ability to run past people after the duo combined to secure a dramatic overtime win for the Kansas City Chiefs over the Los Angeles Chargers.

It was a night to remember for Kelce, who finished with 191 receiving yards – a career high for the 32-year-old – and had tied up the game when he caught a seven-yard touchdown pass with one minute and 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Kelce then completed a 34-yard pass from Mahomes, collecting the ball at the 30, side-stepping two tackles and making it to the end zone where he was engulfed by team-mates as the Chiefs earned a 34-28 triumph and a seventh straight win.

Superstar quarterback Mahomes revelled in the game-winning moment and paid tribute to his team-mate.

"I don't think I've ever been part of a walk-off touchdown or anything like that, so to be in that moment, find him underneath and him making such a dynamic play where, I mean, he cut back, ran by people," said Mahomes.

"You think he's old. He can't run by people. But he's still running by people. And he got in the end zone."

Mahomes himself impressed with a season-high 410 yards off the back of 31 of 47 passing, while he had three touchdowns and an interception.

That interception left the Chiefs in a bit of a pickle as it led to the Chargers scoring for a 21-13 advantage in the fourth quarter.

"Obviously it [doesn't feel good] in the moment," he added. "I mean, I promise you I felt as bad as anyone about that throw and that situation, and knew how bad it looked. 

"But you will get another chance and you better be ready for that moment."

Five of Kelce's 10 catches for 142 yards occurred in the fourth quarter and overtime, while his 69-yard reception then resulted in Tyreek Hill's one-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion that left the teams level at 21-21.

Head coach Andy Reid said Kelce proved he still has the speed to mix it with the best in the league.

"Everybody is talking about him losing a step, he looked fast to me," Reid said. 

"His endurance down the stretch for an elder statesman — he's not over the hill — his acceleration is something."

Travis Kelce scored a stunning walk-off touchdown and Patrick Mahomes made history as the streaking Kansas City Chiefs topped the Los Angeles Chargers 34-28 in overtime on Thursday.

Kelce and star quarterback Mahomes combined for a 34-yard touchdown to lift the AFC West-leading Chiefs (10-4) past the Chargers (9-6) in the additional period for their seventh straight victory.

Mahomes – who finished 31-of-47 passing for 410 yards, three touchdowns and an interception – took his tally to 152 touchdowns in 60 NFL games, the former MVP becoming the fastest player to reach 150 combined rushing and passing TDs after eclipsing Hall of Famer Dan Marino (61 games).

The Chiefs rallied in Los Angeles, where the Chargers were fuelled by Justin Herbert – who threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score to put the hosts 14-10 ahead at half-time.

After Kansas City's Harrison Butker's field-goal made it a one-point game in the third quarter, the two teams traded touchdowns in a wild fourth period.

The Chargers led 21-13 and 28-21, but the Chiefs responded on both occasions – Mahomes throwing touchdowns passes to Tyreek Hill and Kelce as Kansas City forced overtime.

That Mahomes-Kelce combination proved decisive with less than nine minutes left on the clock in OT after the latter weaved his way through the Chargers' defence to spark wild celebrations.

Hill and Kelce became the first wide receiver/tight end duo in NFL history to each have at least 10 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown in the same game, per Stats Perform.

Los Angeles Chargers star Keenan Allen landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the NFL franchise announced on Monday.

Allen is now in doubt for Sunday's clash with the New York Giants after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Chargers consider the four-time Pro Bowler "day-to-day" as they prepare to host the Giants at SoFi Stadium.

Allen is closing in on his fifth 1,000-yard campaign – the wide receiver has 86 catches for 929 yards and four touchdowns this season.

"Keenan's a guy that has many talents. This guy's a scratch golfer and all that," Chargers head coach Brandon Staley told reporters. "I haven't seen him on the basketball court yet, but he's a guy that can do a lot of things.

"He's got a high-level skill set. He's telling me that he can play DB, we'll see if that works out some day. In junior college we did that a lot, with guys going both ways. We'll see if that happens for him in the NFL.

"I think when you run those plays, you want to run them with people you trust. I feel like he's a guy you trust because there's an element of like, 'What if it was covered,' or, 'Hey, what if, what if, what if?' You want the ball in the hands of someone that can make a good decision and Keenan certainly did that for us."

The Chargers are 7-5 after topping the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 behind Allen's two touchdown receptions, while he also threw a pass to quarterback Justin Herbert for a two-point conversion.

Staley's Chargers are second in the AFC West and occupy the second Wild Card spot.

The Los Angeles Chargers secured a huge win in the hunt for AFC playoff places as they overcame the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 at Paul Brown Stadium.

A spirited fightback from the Bengals almost led to the Chargers blowing a 24-point lead, but Brandon Staley's men responded in the fourth quarter to pull away from the hosts and put both teams on 7-5 for the season.

Quarterback Justin Herbert was at his effervescent best, throwing for three touchdowns and completing 26 of 35 passes for 317 yards overall.

The Chargers scored a touchdown from their very first drive of the game, bravely going for it on fourth and goal as Herbert fired a pass into Keenan Allen. The extra point was missed by Dustin Hopkins, though he did succeed with a 43-yard field goal attempt shortly after.

Jamar Chase thought he was in for a Bengals TD on the next drive but inexplicably dropped Joe Burrow's pass into the hands of Michael Davis to turn it into an interception, which proved costly as the Chargers secured another TD from the resulting drive as Herbert found Allen again.

The visitors' dominance continued at the start of the second quarter as Herbert executed a huge 44-yard pass into Jalen Guyton for another TD to make the score 24-0.

The Bengals began a comeback as Burrow threw a 29-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins, before running one in himself to cut the lead to 11 points at half-time, and that momentum continued in the third quarter as they pulled it back to an eight-point ball game with a 48-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.

A second fumble of the game for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gave the Bengals the chance to cut the lead further, which they did as Joe Mixon ran in his first TD of the day, but a Mixon fumble at the start of the fourth quarter allowed Tevaughn Campbell to run it in from 61 yards. Ekeler then made up for his fumbles with a one-yard running TD to secure the victory for his team.

Brady and Gronk roll back the years for the Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a comfortable 30-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combining twice for touchdowns, the first time they had done so since Week 2.

Brady's arm had a busy afternoon as he threw 19 passes in the first quarter alone, with 51 overall, completing 38 for 368 yards and four TD passes, including the two to Gronkowski.

The Bucs move on to 9-3 while the Falcons and their fading playoff hopes go to 5-7, level with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Lions finally roar after late drama

The Detroit Lions finally won a game, 364 days since they last did so, sealing a dramatic 29-27 win against the Minnesota Vikings by scoring a touchdown in the last seconds of the game.

Two touchdowns and two field goals for the Lions in the second quarter gave them a 20-6 lead at half-time, and they had an eight-point advantage going into the fourth quarter.

It seemed like it would be a gruelling near miss though as touchdowns from K.J. Osborn and Justin Jefferson put the Vikings 27-23 ahead with less than two minutes remaining, but in their last play, an 11-yard TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St Brown sent Ford Field into ecstasy. The Lions move on to 1-10-1 while the Vikings slip to 5-7.

The Los Angeles Chargers secured a huge win in the hunt for AFC playoff places as they overcame the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 at Paul Brown Stadium.

A spirited fightback from the Bengals almost led to the Chargers blowing a 24-point lead, but Brandon Staley's men responded in the fourth quarter to pull away from the hosts and put both teams on 7-5 for the season.

Quarterback Justin Herbert was at his effervescent best, throwing for three touchdowns and completing 26 of 35 passes for 317 yards overall.

The Chargers scored a touchdown from their very first drive of the game, bravely going for it on fourth and goal as Herbert fired a pass into Keenan Allen. The extra point was missed by Dustin Hopkins, though he did succeed with a 43-yard field goal attempt shortly after.

Jamar Chase thought he was in for a Bengals TD on the next drive but inexplicably dropped Joe Burrow's pass into the hands of Michael Davis to turn it into an interception, which proved costly as the Chargers secured another TD from the resulting drive as Herbert found Allen again.

The visitors' dominance continued at the start of the second quarter as Herbert executed a huge 44-yard pass into Jalen Guyton for another TD to make the score 24-0.

The Bengals began a comeback as Burrow threw a 29-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins, before running one in himself to cut the lead to 11 points at half-time, and that momentum continued in the third quarter as they pulled it back to an eight-point ball game with a 48-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.

A second fumble of the game for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gave the Bengals the chance to cut the lead further, which they did as Joe Mixon ran in his first TD of the day, but a Mixon fumble at the start of the fourth quarter allowed Tevaughn Campbell to run it in from 61 yards. Ekeler then made up for his fumbles with a one-yard running TD to secure the victory for his team.

Brady and Gronk roll back the years for the Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a comfortable 30-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combining twice for touchdowns, the first time they had done so since Week 2.

Brady's arm had a busy afternoon as he threw 19 passes in the first quarter alone, with 51 overall, completing 38 for 368 yards and four TD passes, including the two to Gronkowski.

The Bucs move on to 9-3 while the Falcons and their fading playoff hopes go to 5-7, level with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Lions finally roar after late drama

The Detroit Lions finally won a game, 364 days since they last did so, sealing a dramatic 29-27 win against the Minnesota Vikings by scoring a touchdown in the last seconds of the game.

Two touchdowns and two field goals for the Lions in the second quarter gave them a 20-6 lead at half-time, and they had an eight-point advantage going into the fourth quarter.

It seemed like it would be a gruelling near miss though as touchdowns from K.J. Osborn and Justin Jefferson put the Vikings 27-23 ahead with less than two minutes remaining, but in their last play, an 11-yard TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St Brown sent Ford Field into ecstasy. The Lions move on to 1-10-1 while the Vikings slip to 5-7.

The Los Angeles Chargers approached the 2021 season viewed by most as much more likely to make the leap and become contenders in the AFC than the Cincinnati Bengals.

But as the Chargers and the Bengals prepare to do battle in a matchup that will be critical to deciding the final AFC playoff picture, Cincinnati are the team in a better position to mount a deep postseason run.

The Bengals sent a message in Week 12 with a 41-10 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers that moved Cincinnati to 7-4, giving them their first sweep of that AFC North rival since 2009 and ensuring they ended the weekend only a game behind the AFC's current number one seed the Baltimore Ravens.

Los Angeles go into Week 13 only a game out of their division lead, but with a 6-5 record and coming off a disheartening road loss to the Denver Broncos.

Last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert threw the ball 44 times against Denver, his second-highest mark of the season having attempted 47 passes versus the Washington Football Team in Week 1.

Yet the depth of those passes should encourage a Bengals defense that has greatly improved in 2021.

Herbert averaged only 7.11 air yards per attempt last week, per Stats Perform data, below the league average for Week 12 of 7.93.

External frustration is mounting at the apparent shackling of Herbert by his own offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the explosive plays that defined his superb rookie season significantly reduced this term.

Herbert was tied seventh in the NFL last season with 32 pass plays or 25 yards or more in 15 games. Through 11 games this season, he has just 16.

While the Bengals are in the top half in the NFL by yards per game allowed, ranking 13th with 348.2, they have proven susceptible to the big play.

The Bengals have given up 47 passing plays of 20 yards or more, the seventh-most in the league, and it would surely be a great relief to their defense to see the Chargers stick with a conservative passing game and miss a chance to take advantage of a weakness for Cincinnati.

After Joe Mixon gashed the Steelers for a career-high 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the Bengals likely won't hesitate to use the ground game to capitalise on a clear defensive deficiency for the Chargers.

The Chargers have given up the most rush yards (1,598) in the NFL in 2021 while their rush average allowed of 4.69 yards per carry is the league's fourth-worst.

Should the Bengals enjoy similar success on Sunday, that will take a great amount of pressure off 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow as he bids to pick apart a defense that is not living up to Chargers head coach Brandon Staley's reputation.

Herbert looked to have surpassed Burrow as the premier quarterback from the 2020 draft class and most would argue he is still the cream of that particular crop.

Yet if the Chargers cannot minimise their struggles on run defense and find a way to open up the passing game against a Bengals defense evidently vulnerable to explosive plays, Burrow could take a significant step towards starting his playoff career before Herbert. 

The Los Angeles Chargers' ability to challenge for the NFC West will be put to the test when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13. 

Los Angeles have won three straight games since a defeat to the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals and can ill afford a slip-up against a Bengals side that are challenging in the AFC North. 

The Kansas City Chiefs have finally hit their stride but face a tough test when the Denver Broncos visit Arrowhead Stadium, while Monday sees a battle for supremacy in the AFC East between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. 

We've run down some of the standout stats from the biggest games in Week 13. 

 

Los Angeles Chargers (6-5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) 

The Bengals will be hopeful of avenging their 16-13 loss to the Chargers in Week 1 – their second straight defeat to Los Angeles. However, Cincinnati won their four other meetings since the 2010 season and are riding high after a resounding 41-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last time out. 

It was only the third time the Bengals beat the Steelers by 30 points or more, with the last occurrence being all the way back in September 1989. 

An early kick-off on the east coast will be tough for the Chargers to navigate, particularly after a 28-13 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12. They had three rushing first downs against the Broncos, making it the fourth game in which they have had that many or fewer this season – the third most in the NFL. 

They may continue to rely on quarterback Justin Herbert to help them get points on the board. His 438 passing attempts this season places him third in the NFL, behind only Tom Brady (457) and Patrick Mahomes (449). 

The Chargers defense will need to keep a close watch on Joe Mixon, though. The running back had a career-high 165 rushing yards and 11 first downs in Week 12. 

Denver Broncos (6-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)  

Not only have the Chiefs won four straight after a 3-4 start, but they've also come out on top in 11 straight meetings with the Broncos – a run that stretches back to Week 10 of 2015. One more victory will make it the longest winning streak against a single opponent in the team's history. 

The game will have big implications on the playoff hopes of both sides, while the Broncos could move off the bottom of the AFC West and replace the Chiefs at the summit with a victory. 

Kansas City will hope Mahomes can restore the levels of production seen previously. He did not have a rushing or throwing touchdown in the 19-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys last time out, his second such game in his past five outings. In the 51 games before this run, he had a TD in 50 of them. 

He has still led an offense that has had 30 drives with 10 or more plays this season – the most in the NFL. Though the Chiefs' ability to get the ball out of their opponents' hands (they have allowed the fifth fewest drives with 10 or more plays this season) could be counteracted by Teddy Bridgewater's excellence under pressure. 

Bridgewater has a league-best completion percentage (77.6) to go with seven TD passes and no interceptions when facing the blitz this season. 

New England Patriots (8-4) at Buffalo Bills (7-4) 

The Bills dethroned the Pats in the AFC East in 2020 and could do with a home win to boost their chances of retaining the crown this year. 

New England fell to a 24-21 loss to the Bills on their last trip to Buffalo but are 15-2 across their previous 17 visits. They are also head into Monday's matchup on the back of a six-game winning streak. 

The game appears set to be played in frigid conditions and some stingy defenses may make for tepid action too – the Bills (182) and Patriots (190) are ranked first and second respectively for fewest points allowed this season. The Bills have allowed just 182 points while the Patriots have given up 190. 

Mac Jones threw for a career-high 310 yards in last week's win against the Tennessee Titans, but Buffalo made it 21 straight games in which they have had at least 300 yards of offense when the defeated the New Orleans Saints 31-6 on Thanksgiving. 

Stefon Diggs has been key for the Bills. He had 74 receiving yards against the Saints – his ninth game with at least 60 this season, behind only Cooper Kupp (11) and Justin Jefferson (10). 

Elsewhere... 

The Cardinals (9-2) are up against the Chicago Bears (4-7) at Soldier Field on their return from their bye week. The road team has won each of the last five meetings between these teams dating back to Chicago’s 20-point comeback on Monday Night Football in Arizona in Week 6, 2006. 

The New York Giants (4-7) will be hoping to stop the Miami Dolphins (5-7) make it five wins on the bounce. The Dolphins are the only team in the NFL this season to have had both a four-game winning streak and a four-game losing streak. 

Tom Brady leads the league in passing attempts (457), completions (309) and touchdowns (30) this season and will be hoping to steer the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) to victory at the Atlanta Falcons (5-6) 

The Seahawks (3-8) have lost eight games in a season for the first time since 2011, ending a franchise-record run of nine years with seven or fewer losses. However, they will no doubt be up for a grudge match against the San Francisco 49ers (6-5). 

Ben Roethlisberger described Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert as a "special talent" after his display in a stunning 41-37 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Herbert capped off an impressive performance by throwing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with just over two minutes remaining as the Chargers avoided a dramatic collapse after holding off Roethlisberger's rallying Steelers 41-37.

The 23-year-old became the first player in NFL history with 380-plus passing yards and 90-plus rushing yards in a game.

He finished 30-of-41 passing for 382 yards and three TDs, while he rushed for another 90 yards – the most by a Chargers quarterback in a game.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Roethlisberger said: "They're a really good football team. It starts with their quarterback. 

"He's a great young football player. Ran all over the place today, made throws. What a special talent, he's the next generation."

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was equally effusive in his praise of his quarterback following the tight win in Los Angeles.

"He was fantastic in the game today. He was the best player on the field. He's got real instincts at the game," Staley said.

"He threw the football at a really high-level tonight, kept himself protected, stayed turnover free… it was just real quarterbacking today and I'm really really proud of him."

The Chargers were ahead 27-10 entering the final quarter before the Steelers fought back to sensationally take a 37-34 lead with just over three minutes remaining, before Herbert's throw found Williams for the winning touchdown.

"It turned into a wild ride, but we were ready for it," Staley said about his team's performance. 

"We played nine games before today where we've been preparing for a fourth quarter like that, and when the fourth quarter happened the way it did, our guys stayed connected. 

"We played our best at the end, we finished the game on our terms, and I can't say enough about our players and coaches because that's as good a win as we've had."

Justin Herbert came up big at the death and Austin Ekeler dazzled as the Los Angeles Chargers avoided a stunning collapse after holding off Ben Roethlisberger's rallying Pittsburgh Steelers 41-37.

Herbert threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with just over two minutes remaining as the Chargers outlasted the Steelers in a wild shoot-out on Sunday.

The Chargers led 27-10 entering the final quarter before Roethlisberger and the Steelers fought back to sensationally take a 37-34 lead behind Chris Boswell's 45-yard field goal with 3:24 remaining.

But the Chargers (6-4) avoided a mammoth collapse as Herbert found Williams four plays later to sink the Steelers (5-4-1), while Ekeler finished with a career-high four touchdowns.

Herbert became the first player in NFL history with 380-plus passing yards and 90-plus rushing yards in a game, per Stats Perform. The Chargers quarterback finished 30-of-41 passing for 382 yards and three TDs, while he rushed for another 90 yards – the most by a Chargers quarterback in a game.

With his third TD pass, Herbert improved to 53 touchdowns in his first 25 career starts, surpassing Tony Romo for fourth most in a player's opening 25 starts in the Super Bowl era – only Patrick Mahomes (68), Dan Marino (65) and Kurt Warner (59) had more.

As for Ekeler, who scored in every quarter, became the first player with multiple rushing touchdowns and multiple receiving TDs in a single game since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011.

Steelers veteran Roethlisberger finished with three touchdowns on 28-of-44 passing for 273 yards.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been activated off the team's reserve/COVID-19 list.

Roethlisberger missed last week's clash with the Detroit Lions, which finished 16-16 after overtime, but the Steelers' director of communications Burt Lauten confirmed on Saturday that the 39-year-old will be back for Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Steelers are 5-3-1 and second in the AFC North, though Roethlisberger's absence was felt against the Lions.

Mason Rudolph started in his place, but missed a glut of opportunities to deliver touchdown passes, including a late throw into the dirt that should have put Ray-Ray McCloud into the endzone.

Rudolph threw for, 242 yards, one touchdown, one interception and registered a completion percentage of 60.

While Rudolph told ESPN on Thursday that he was preparing to start against the Chargers, it appears he will be back on the bench, with Roethlisberger able to return to action.

Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has thrown for 1,986 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season across eight games.

The Los Angeles Chargers could be without both Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery for their clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers after both were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Edge rusher Bosa is once again leading the way for the Chargers with 5.5 sacks so far this season, while defensive tackle Tillery has 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss in 2021.

They would each be significant losses for a Chargers team looking to right the ship after three losses in their past four games and for a defense that ranks 19th in the NFL with 5.59 yards per play allowed.

However, the Chargers pair are not the only players who could miss Sunday's primetime matchup due to being in coronavirus protocol.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was absent for their 16-16 tie with the Detroit Lions after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, on which he was joined by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick after he tested positive for coronavirus.

Discussing the quarterback position on Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said: "We're going to build our plan around getting Mason [Rudolph, backup QB] ready to play.

"We're going to highlight his talents and skills relative to the opponents that we're intending to play. We're going to build that plan, work that plan. We've got a young offensive unit, and we'll let that lead us throughout the week.

"If we get to a point in the week where Ben has an opportunity to get to a moving train, that's exactly what he'll do. He'll be capable of executing the game plan."

The Chargers (5-4) are a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, while the Steelers (5-3-1) trail the 6-3 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

Pittsburgh have won four of their past six meetings with the Chargers.

The Green Bay Packers' first look at life without Aaron Rodgers was not a pleasant one, as their offence sputtered with backup quarterback Jordan Love at the helm and the Kansas City Chiefs held on for a 13-7 victory. 

The Packers (7-2) had averaged 27 points during the seven-game winning streak that ended on Sunday after reigning MVP Rodgers missed the game following a positive coronavirus test during the week. 

The visitors did not get on the scoreboard until Love hit Allen Lazard for a 20-yard touchdown pass with five minutes remaining for his first career NFL TD.

That gave Green Bay some hope after their previous drive had ended with L'Jarius Sneed picking off a Love pass on Kansas City's five-yard line, but the Packers ran out of time. 

While the Chiefs (5-4) were not about to complain about the victory that got them back over .500, their season-long concerns about their offence continued as Patrick Mahomes had another unimpressive game. 

Former league MVP Mahomes completed 20 of 37 passes for just 166 yards but avoided throwing an interception for the first time since the season opener. His 54.1 completion percentage was his worst in a regular-season game since completing 51.2 per cent in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5 last season. 

 

Cardinals cruise past 49ers without Murray

The other red-hot team playing without their star quarterback fared better, as the Arizona Cardinals rolled to a 31-17 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers despite Kyler Murray's absence through an ankle injury. 

Veteran Colt McCoy stepped in for the Cardinals and completed 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards, while James Conner rushed for 93 yards and a pair of scores as Arizona improved to 8-1. 

Three turnovers proved critical for San Francisco (3-5) as the 49ers lost two fumbles in the first half and had trouble sustaining drives throughout the game, with only 23:13 of possession compared to 36:47 for Arizona. 

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 28 of 40 passes for 326 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for San Francisco. 

In Philadelphia, Dustin Hopkins' 29-yard field goal with two seconds to play gave the Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) a 27-24 victory over the Eagles (3-6). 

Adrian Phillips enjoyed the sweet taste of victory on Sunday, as he took the chance to "stick it" to his former team in the New England Patriots' win at the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Patriots moved to 4-4 on the season with a 27-24 triumph at SoFi Stadium, with ex-Chargers safety Phillips making a decisive impact.

Phillips intercepted two Justin Herbert passes, his second pick returned for a touchdown that effectively served as the telling blow by putting the Patriots 27-17 to the good late in the fourth quarter.

"Everybody always wants to kind of stick to their former team, and this is a great organisation that we played against today," said Phillips.

"Just to be able to go out there and play against them and end up having the game that I had, it was sweet. I loved it.

"Great teams win the close games. And we need to keep stringing these along."

Herbert's pick-six came on an apparent mix-up between himself and tight end Jared Cook, with last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year taking the blame after the Chargers dropped their second successive game to fall to 4-3.

"Just a miscommunication [between him and Cook]. I've got to be smarter about that," said Herbert, who will hope to help the Chargers avoid a third straight defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9.

"I've got to move on to the next read. But that's one of those plays you'll have to watch and get better from and as tough as it is, you're gonna have to get better from it.

"That is one of the good things about film tomorrow. It is going to sting for a while, but it is on to the next week and we have got another tough competitor next Sunday, so we are going to watch film and get better from it."

 

SoFi Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LVI in February and, as the NFL season enters its eighth week, both teams that call it home have a chance of competing on the grandest stage in North American sport for the chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

However, it would be fair to still have doubts around the Chargers after they slumped to a 34-6 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.

The Chargers have had a bye week to stew and try to wash off the stink of a performance they will be all too eager to forget; however, getting back on track may not be straightforward.

Indeed, the Chargers on Sunday host a 3-4 New England Patriots team who have lost three of their games by one score.

The Patriots rank 11th in Stats Perform's efficiency versus expected (EVE) metric, which looks at down, distance, yards from goal, quarter, time remaining, and score difference and uses those six factors to train a model to predict yardage output for any game situation. From there, the projected yards are compared to the actual yards gained or prevented in those situations.

That is eight spots higher than the Chargers, indicating that the Patriots have performed at a more efficient level than Los Angeles this season and should provide a stern test of their Super Bowl credentials.

It is easy to pin this game as a battle between last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and arguably the best first-year quarterback from this year's crop, Mac Jones.

But to do so ignores the several other factors that may decide this intriguing AFC clash.

Harris to make hay on the ground

In part reflective of the Patriots having played an extra game and having claimed two blowout wins over the New York Jets, who entered the week 31st in EVE, the difference between the Chargers and New England in offensive yards per play is negligible.

The Chargers are 16th in yards per play with 5.71 while the Patriots are 18th with 5.70.

Success for the Patriots on offense has often come as a result of the play of running back Damien Harris.

Harris is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, rushing for three touchdowns across their overtime defeat to the Dallas Cowboys and a second win over the Jets.

Among running backs with at least 25 carries, Harris is 10th with an average of 2.26 yards after contact per attempt, running behind an offensive line that, per Stats Perform data, is 27th in run block win percentage. 

In other words, he is overcoming disappointing blocking and performing very efficiently, and this week he gets to face defense that is 29th in the NFL in run disruption rank. 

The Chargers are giving up 5.45 yards per rush, the most in the NFL, and if the Patriots are to keep up with an explosive Los Angeles offense, Harris will likely play a key role.

The Patriots' secondary struggles

Having conceded to being undone by the Ravens' defense and their use of disguise two weeks ago, Herbert faces another vaunted defensive schemer in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

New England's defense entered Week 8 ranked eighth in yards allowed under expectation; however, their depleted secondary is vulnerable.

The Patriots are 15th in pass yards allowed under expectation and have given up 77 passes of 10 yards or more, the seventh most in the league.

Herbert's passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards of 114.8 is eighth among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts of such distance.

And, with Mike Williams having already racked up eight receptions of 20 yards or more, the Chargers have a receiver who can consistently deliver the explosive plays that can tilt the contest firmly in the Chargers' favour.

Should he do so against the Patriots, Jones may find it difficult to put up the points stay in the game versus a Chargers defense featuring a name with which Belichick is extremely familiar.

Can Jones make right reads?

"It makes me feel old," Belichick replied when asked about Asante Samuel Jr, the son of the cornerback by the same name who played five seasons with the Patriots, winning the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004 in a career that saw him twice lead the league in interceptions.

Belichick and the Patriots will surely be wary of Samuel, who has inherited his father's ball-hawking tendencies and already has two interceptions to his name since being taken in the second round of this year's draft by the Chargers.

Samuel is giving up a big play on only 21.1 per cent of his targets, comfortably the right side of the league average of 26 and has allowed a receiver to get open on just 13 of his 56 coverage matchups so far.

His efforts are a big part of why a Chargers defense that has struggled against the run came into the week sixth in pass yards allowed under expectation.

However, Belichick also had great praise for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and his defensive system, which relies heavily on defenders matching the routes of their receivers but from a zone coverage look.

"Coach Staley does a really good job of keeping you off balance, and, again, we're going to have to make some good post-snap decisions on a lot of things, whether it's movement, rotations, how the coverage plays out," said Belichick. 

"They do a good job of matching routes. What looks like zone or what looks like some space closes very quickly in the passing game, and, again, they're very well-coached. They do a good job of, as the pattern develops, they just pounce on it. It really plays like man-to-man, but it's not man-to-man, but it turns out to be man-to-man. Those are challenging for the receivers and the quarterback because the match zones are tough."

That means Jones, who has done an excellent job of reading the field and getting the ball out quickly and is delivering a well-thrown ball on 82.8 per cent of his passes – tied second among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts entering Week 8 – will have a lot to decipher on Sunday.

It may be billed as Herbert versus Jones, but in reality, this clash is Harris against a struggling Chargers run defense, Herbert vs. Belichick and Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels vs. Staley. Those subplots should make for a fascinating matchup that will be critical in the AFC playoff race.

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