With the Jags coming off a rollicking comeback win over Kansas City's AFC West brethren, they surely have an upset on their minds as they travel to the midwest. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are hoping to secure a trip to their fifth consecutive AFC Championship Game. They've made it at least that far in every year of the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era, and it's unlikely they want that streak to come to an end now.
So, which of these teams will advance to the next round? We're glad you asked. Before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
Date: Saturday, Jan. 21 | Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri)
TV: NBC | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Chiefs -8.5, O/U 53 (courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook)
When the Jaguars have the ball
It's extremely hacky to imitate the opening of A Tale of Two Cities when introducing a point, but damn if last week wasn't the worst of halves followed by the best of halves for Trevor Lawrence. Prior to halftime against the Los Angeles Chargers, Lawrence was just 10 of 24 for 77 yards, one touchdown, and an incredible FOUR interceptions. After the break, he went 18 of 23 for 211 yards and three touchdowns, with zero picks.
Obviously, the former type of half absolutely cannot happen against Kansas City if the Jaguars want to stay in the game. The Chiefs are not the Chargers, and they will not let an opponent survive that type of performance. And the Jags really might need Lawrence to play at the level he reached in that second half, for the entire game, just to keep up with Kansas City's explosive offense. That means he'll also need to exceed the performance he put forth when these teams met back in Week 10, when he completed 29 of 40 passes, but for just 259 yards (6.5 per attempt) and two touchdowns. It was a solid game, but not nearly enough to keep up with what Patrick Mahomes was doing on the other side of the ball.
If Lawrence is to get the types of results the Jags need from him, it will likely come via throws to the middle of the field. Kansas City ranked 29th in Football Outsiders' DVOA on those throws, while Lawrence went 35 of 48 for 392 yards, five touchdowns, and one pick on passes between the hashes, according to Tru Media. He ranked sixth in the league in Expected Points Added (EPA) per dropback on those plays.
Throwing over the middle likely means working the matchups with slot man Christian Kirk (76% of snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus) vs. L'Jarius Sneed, and tight end Evan Engram vs. Kansas City's linebackers and safeties. On the perimeter, Zay Jones and Marvin Jones will see coverage from rookies Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson, and they are somewhat easier to throw on than is Sneed, but Lawrence was at his best ripping it over the middle -- especially when he was able to push the ball downfield while doing so.
Getting the ball downfield necessitates time to throw, and the Jacksonville offensive line will have its hands full with Kansas City's front -- particularly Chris Jones. Lawrence's superpower is his ability to avoid sacks, but it's more difficult to do that when the pressure comes up the middle and directly into your lap. That's where Jones comes in, and if the Jags can't keep him from crashing the pocket, it might be a long day for their offense. Lawrence may also have to work his checkdowns more often than he likes (Travis Etienne has rarely been targeted in recent weeks) if Jones is dominating the game.
The Jags might be tempted to try to play conservative in a matchup where they are underdogs, but they really need to do the opposite. Kansas City is going to score; putting the game on Lawrence's right shoulder, rather than counting on Etienne and the offensive line to control the ball all game, is Jacksonville's best chance of pulling off an upset.
When the Chiefs have the ball
When these two teams played several weeks ago, Patrick Mahomes torched the Jaguars secondary to the tune of 26 of 35 for 331 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He added seven rushing attempts for 39 yards while taking zero sacks. He did that despite losing JuJu Smith-Schuster to a concussion and Andrew Wylie to an elbow injury in the first half.
It makes sense that he was able to light the Jaguars up, given the areas of relative weakness for Jacksonville's defense.
The Jags ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders' DVOA against throws to tight ends this season, for example, and Mahomes completed 6 of 7 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown to Travis Kelce, as well as 3 of 3 passes for 26 yards and a score for Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. No team in the league saw its opponents throw a greater share of its pass attempts to running backs, per Tru Media, and Mahomes connected with Jerick McKinnon on 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards. Only two teams allowed more receiving yards to players lined up in the slot than did the Jaguars, and Mahomes went 10 of 13 for 153 yards and two scores to slot men during the game, despite Smith-Schuster leaving early.
Well, here we are a couple months later, and Kelce is still Kelce, McKinnon is even more entrenched as the lead back in Kansas City's offense, Smith-Schuster is back in the fold, and the Jaguars still have the same relative weaknesses as a pass defense. In other words, this sets up as a beautiful matchup for Mahomes. The places he likes to go with the ball, are the same places the Jaguars tend to leave open, and we've already seen him pick them apart with those exact types of throws.
Betting against a repeat is betting on Jacksonville's defense to suddenly have an out-of-character performance against the best quarterback in the league, or on said quarterback to have an out-of-character performance against a defense not all that well equipped to deal with him or his primary weapons.
Throw in the fact that the Jaguars also ranked 29th in the NFL in rush defense DVOA this season, and that the Chiefs likely have an advantage in the trenches, and the likelihood of the Chiefs offense failing in this game starts to seem pretty minuscule. That's especially true if what we saw from McKinnon as a runner both last postseason (34 carries for 150 yards) and in the games where he actually received significant carries this year (he went 8-53, 8-51, and 10-52 in the only three games where he had 8 carries or more).
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Jaguars 20