Our NFL experts predict, pick and preview the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs with kickoff time, TV channel and spread.
One of these AFC teams was expected to be here. The other was not.
Not a single soul in the NFL pundit world expected Patrick Mahomes NOT to be here in the month of January leading his Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs and stalking another title run. But Trevor Lawrence? Did we expect him to be here? Nope. If you recall, his Jacksonville Jaguars were an NFL-worst 3-14 overall last season and then limped out to a 3-7 start this season.
But the Jags caught fire down the stretch and now the cats with the blue tongues enter this playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium having won six straight games, including last week's improbable and incredible 27-point comeback to beat the Chargers 31-30 on the last play of the game.
These two teams know each other well, having already faced off once this season back in Week 10. In that game, the Chiefs beat the Jags 27-17, which dropped the Jags to that 3-7 mark. Obviously, this will be a different J-ville team that the Chiefs will have to deal with on Saturday, which makes it all the more fun of course.
AFC Divisional Playoff: Jacksonville (9-8) at Kansas City (14-3)
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 21 at 4:30 p.m ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Kansas City -8.5
Tickets: As low as $165 on SITickets.com*
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Trevor Lawerence are we going to see?
Yep, just like when the girl with the neon green hair gets on a crowded elevator, we all saw it. We all saw Jacksonville dig its way out of a huge 27-0 hole to come back and beat the Chargers 31-30 last Saturday night. Great comeback. In fact, it was their sixth come-from-behind win in their last seven wins. But let's remember how bad those first 30 minutes were for Lawrence and the Jaguars. At halftime, the offense had accumulated 106 yards with six first downs and Lawrence was just 10-of-24 for 77 yards. There also were four interceptions, three of those picked off by Asante Samuel Jr. It's weird to think that Lawrence only threw eight picks during the regular season, so last week's first half has to be looked at as an aberration. And credit to Lawrence for staying the course after a dreadful start and rebounding in a big way with four second-half touchdown passes.
So will the Chiefs follow Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s first-half game plan to mix up coverages from man to zone and try and get after Lawrence? Speaking of…
2. The BIG matchup in this one
While we are on the subject of pressure, let's talk about the Chiefs' defensive line vs. the Jaguars' O-line. The Boys from the Barbecue Capital were second in the NFL with 55 sacks during the regular season. And now KC is facing a Jacksonville line that ranked fifth in terms of fewest sacks allowed (28). In fact, the Jags are coming off of a strong showing last week in which Lawrence dropped back 49 times and was pressured just 18 percent of the time (including just eight percent in the second half). All-Pro Chris Jones leads the Chiefs with 15.5 sacks but if Lawrence continues to get rid of the ball quickly (2.4 seconds per dropback in the second half vs. Chargers), he may be able to negate KC's pass rush.
3. Don't let Patrick Mahomes get a big lead
Okay Jags, we see you. You made the third-biggest postseason comeback in NFL playoff history. But a word of warning; don’t make that same mistake against the Chiefs. As we have all seen over and over again, Mahomes is a master of prestidigitation. He’ll do whatever it takes to make plays; throw with his left hand, throw underhanded, or scramble like mad to make positive yards. He also commands the highest octane offense in the league at 414 yards and 29 points per game (both No. 1 overall). On top of that, Mahomes may have played his best game of the season the last time these two went at it, throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns (with one INT) in the Week 10 win. Any lead the Chiefs are allowed will be a crusher to the Jags' chances. In that first meeting, it was 20-0 with less than a minute left in the second quarter and KC never looked back.
Even though the old adage is "defense wins championships" I have a feeling that the offenses will take center stage in this one. Lawrence vs. Mahomes is going to be a great showdown of young QBs who both have viable threats to work with. But give the edge to the home team's cadre of weapons.
Although the Chiefs have explosive wideouts like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (don't forget about former Giant Kadarius Toney either), keep an eye on other pass catchers. The Jaguars have a notoriously tough time with tight ends and running backs in the passing game. So look for All-Pro Travis Kelce and the versatile Jerick McKinnon (six straight games with a TD catch) to be the difference-makers here.
Oh, one more nugget for you here… In games where Andy Reid has had 10 days or more to prepare for an opponent, his record is 30-6.
Prediction: Chiefs 34, Jaguars 21
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
*Price as of publication.