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2022 NFL season: Five things to watch for in Jaguars-Chiefs in AFC Divisional Round 

Jacksonville Jaguars
2022 · 10-8-0
Kansas City Chiefs
2022 · 14-3-0

We can all admit we didn't expect the Jaguars to be here.

Insist as the may, the Jags likely didn't, either. But Jacksonville is in the Divisional Round, where it meets a team in the Kansas City Chiefs that sprinted out to a 20-0 lead before cruising to a home win in their regular-season meeting on Nov. 13.

Those were the old Jaguars, though -- at least, that's what Duval County will have you believe.

Since that Week 10 defeat, the Jaguars have lost just one game. Their thrilling, come-from-behind win over the Chargers on Super Wild Card Weekend marked their sixth-straight victory, building a wave of momentum that Jacksonville hopes might consume Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs have other plans -- and greater goals -- in mind.

After a tumultuous 2021 season that ended in heartbreaking defeat in the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs are up to their old tricks. Kansas City hasn't lost since Week 13 and has rattled off nine wins in its last 10 games, cruising to the top seed in the AFC and a first-round bye.

The Chiefs are fresh, rested and ready to show the Jaguars who's boss. It's not David vs. Goliath, but it's a game with a clear favorite and underdog. Will another Chiefs season end in an upset at home? Or can they keep the train rolling right through Trevor Lawrence's Jaguars toward a date with one of their two greatest AFC threats?

Here are five things to watch for when the Jaguars visit the Chiefs on Saturday in the Divisional Round:

  1. Can Trevor Lawrence keep pace with Patrick Mahomes? After a strange 2021 season for the Chiefs, Kansas City is once again a high-powered juggernaut with a Lombardi Trophy atop its wish list. The Chiefs ranked first this season in points per game, yards per game, passing yards per game and passer rating, while landing second in third-down percentage. Simply, they're as good as ever, making the task incredibly difficult for the never-say-die Jaguars. Lawrence has made a habit of digging the Jaguars out of holes in the second half of this season, even when he's often the one holding the shovel. Just look at last week, when the Jaguars spotted the Chargers 27 points before storming back. There's good news for Jacksonville: Lawrence's second-half magic isn't merely an optical illusion. Lawrence pulled a few rabbits out of his helmet last week, racking up 24 points in the second half while completing 78.3 percent of his passes for 211 yards, three touchdowns and a 144.5 passer rating. Mahomes, meanwhile, did the opposite in his last playoff game (the 2021 AFC Championship Game), completing just 44.4 percent of his passes for 55 yards, two interceptions and a horrid 12.3 passer rating after halftime. Perhaps the Jaguars should check the tape from that game before heading to Missouri this weekend. Whatever Cincinnati did in that second half certainly worked, and could help Jacksonville mount a comeback if necessary. The key, then, is simple: Don't fall too far behind. Twenty-seven points wasn't too much for the Jaguars to overcome last week (and once it was down to 20 by halftime, it was go time), but the Chargers aren't the Chiefs. Keep them in sight, Jaguars -- it's your best hope.
  2. Will the Jaguars turn up the heat on Mahomes? Jacksonville is a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to blitz frequency, ranking 18th at 26.3 percent. In their first meeting with the Chiefs, the Jaguars dedicated themselves to playing coverage and forcing Mahomes to find open space, sending a blitz just once in the entire game. It didn't work: Mahomes completed 25 of 34 passes for 306 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against four or fewer rushers. The numbers suggest blitzing might be the way to go, provided Jacksonville's back end doesn't break down amid the chaos. Mahomes experienced the third-worst decline in passer rating between passes attempted without pressure and with pressure, dropping for 119 when unpressed to 57.7 when under duress. Jacksonville has proven to be rather opportunistic defensively, especially in the second half of the season (just ask Dak Prescott). If the Jags want to keep Mahomes from burying them in an early hole, defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell just might have to throw caution to the wind and send the heat.
  3. Can the Chiefs break down Jacksonville's sturdy offensive line? Chris Jones headlines a Kansas City defense that is not quite as good as it was expected to be, but is still pretty solid, at least statistically. Kansas City ranks 11th in total yards allowed per game, standing eighth against the run and 18th against the pass. That would seem to play to the strength of Jacksonville's 10th-ranked passing attack. But Jones and Co. have made a habit of getting after opposing passers in 2022, finishing second in the NFL in sacks as a team (55). Jones recorded 1.5 of Kansas City's five sacks against Jacksonville back in Week 10. The Jaguars have since improved up front, allowing just 1.3 sacks per contest in their last seven games. It's not quite an immovable object facing an unstoppable force, but this matchup could decide how this game goes. Early pressure could force Lawrence into the same mistakes that made Super Wild Card Weekend an uphill climb for Jacksonville, which might also be Kansas City's best chance of keeping the feisty Jaguars at bay. Preventing them from reaching the red zone will be paramount, considering the Chiefs are among the NFL's worst in opposing red zone percentage this season. The game plan is simple, then: Get after Lawrence early and often and prevent him from moving the Jaguars into scoring range. The fewer opportunities Jacksonville gets in this game, the more likely the Chiefs can run away with this one.
  4. Can Andy Reid capitalize on a top seed for the first time in his career? Reid has directed plenty of fantastic teams, clinching five No. 1 seeds prior to 2022 and securing his sixth with these Chiefs. There seems to be a bit of a curse with the top spot in the conference when Reid's team earns it, though. He's never won a Super Bowl as the top seed (when Reid's Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season, they did so as a No. 2 seed). There's plenty of reason to believe Mahomes and Reid will once again advance to the AFC title game -- they've done so in each of the last four seasons and have hosted all four, the longest such streak since the first conference championship game in 1966. But because of the Bills' Week 17 cancellation, if Buffalo beats Cincinnati and the Chiefs advance, they'll play that game at a neutral site (Atlanta). Home game or not, the Chiefs have plenty of experience playing on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. They're batting .500 in such games, falling in 2018, winning it in 2019 and 2020, and losing to the Bengals in 2021. And Mahomes is a perfect 4-0 in the Divisional Round, owning the best marks in NFL history (minimum three such appearances) in completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating. History sides with Kansas City -- that is, until they reach the Super Bowl -- including Reid's perfect 2-0 record against his former understudy, Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson. It will be up to the Jaguars to make some history of their own this weekend if they want to keep their unlikely run alive. If not, it will be business as usual for the Chiefs.
  5. Can Jacksonville ignore the pressure of the Divisional Round? The Jaguars have every reason to let it all hang out this weekend. A year ago, they were preparing to spend the No. 1 overall pick on Georgia's Travon Walker, not game-planning for a playoff matchup against the conference's best team of the last half-decade. Life moves quickly, though, and here they are. If Jacksonville casts aside any doubts regarding whether it can hang with the Chiefs, the Jaguars will have a chance in this one. Lessons could be learned from their first meeting -- i.e., don't spot the Chiefs 20 points in the first half before getting your feet under you -- but what's most important is forgetting what happened in Week 10. After all, we hadn't even roasted turkeys by that point, and Lawrence was just two games into his interception-free streak that lasted more than a month. These Jaguars are different now. Their aggressive offseason spending paid off, and their cast of overlooked defenders are collectively playing some of the best football of their careers. A team with nothing to lose is a team to be feared. We'll see if Jacksonville embraces this role with the hopes of pulling off the upset this weekend.

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