The first game of the NFL's divisional round weekend between the fourth-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars and the AFC's top overall seed, the Kansas City Chiefs, is a fun juxtaposition of expectations. Making the divisional round has become a right of passage for the Chiefs since the arrival of All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led the NFL in passing yards (5,250) and passing touchdowns (41) this season. The 27-year-old is seeking to become the first quarterback with five conference championship game appearances before turning 30. Mahomes is 5-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs in his career with the most prolific numbers in the first rounds since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger.
Mahomes by the numbers in first two rounds all time
* All best by any QB since 1970 AFL/NFL merger (min. 5 starts)
Meanwhile, the Jaguars became only the third team to win a playoff game after having the first overall draft pick, joining the 1978 Houston Oilers and the 1991 Dallas Cowboys. The Jaguars moved on thanks to the third-largest comeback in playoff history, a 27-point rally in their 31-30 wild card round win against the Los Angeles Chargers. These two teams, just like all of the matchups from Super Wild Card Weekend, have played each other already this season with the Chiefs winning 27-17 at Arrowhead in Week 10.
However, the Jaguars put up a decent fight, outscoring Kansas City 17-7 after falling behind 20-0. Mahomes threw for 331 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 26 of 35 passing with tight end Travis Kelce hauling in six of his completions for 81 yards and a touchdown. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence played turnover-free football as he threw for 259 yards and a couple touchdowns on 29 of 40 passing. Wide receiver Christian Kirk -- Jacksonville's big free agent signing last offseason with a four-year, $72 million contract -- had arguably his best game as a Jaguar with a season-high nine catches, 105 receiving yards and a season-high two receiving touchdowns. Despite losing by 10, the Jaguars had a significant advantage in the turnover department, committing none while the Chiefs had three, a Mahomes interception, a lost fumble by rookie running back Isiah Pacheco and a lost fumble on a kickoff return.
However, since their Week 10 regular-season matchup, Lawrence has essentially matched Mahomes' level of play across their last eight games.
Lawrence, Mahomes stats since Week 11, including playoffs
|Trevor Lawrence||Patrick Mahomes|
Here are three things Lawrence and the Jaguars will need to do in order to pull off a monumental upset to reach their first AFC Championship Game since the 2017 season:
1. Pressure Patrick Mahomes without blitzing
A year ago, Mahomes was the least-blitzed quarterback in football as he was under additional pressure on 11.3% of his dropbacks. It's been more of the same in 2022 as he has been blitzed on 21.8% of his dropbacks, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. Standing pat and dropping the vast majority of their defenders into pass coverage is the biggest key to a victory. His three losses this season account for three of his four highest pressure rates without being blitzed, meaning defenses got to him solely using their front four defensive linemen.
Patrick Mahomes' highest pressure rate without blitz in '22
|Week||Opponent||Under Pressure Pct|
* Lost game
Mahomes is still going to make plays, regardless of the situation. He's Patrick Mahomes, but he was 22nd in passer rating (57.6) and threw more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) when pressured without a blitz this season. Only New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who went through an existential crisis with Matt Patricia calling plays, had more interceptions (7) in those situations.
The Jaguars blitz at a league-average rate of 25.3% of the time, 16th out of the NFL's 32 teams. Despite not being an overly aggressive blitz team, Jacksonville ranked third in the entire league this regular season in quarterback press percentage (37.7%) behind only two teams with 12 or more wins: the 14-3 Philadelphia Eagles (38.4%) and the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys (43.3%).
They rank fifth in the NFL in pressure rate when not blitzing this season (33%), and they were able to pressure Mahomes on 32% of his dropbacks when they didn't blitz in Week 10, picking him off in that scenario. That's something to build on this weekend.
Leading the charge in that department is outside linebacker Josh Allen, whose 68 pressures in the regular season were tied with two Pro Bowlers this season -- Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick and Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns. Allen and the ability of the Jaguars' front seven to fluster Mahomes without sending extra rushers will likely determine the outcome of this game.
2. Slow down Travis Kelce
Across the Chiefs' three losses this season, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce caught 16 passes for 222 receiving yards and one touchdown. That's an average of 5.3 receptions per game and 74 receiving yards. Kelce is a nightmare matchup for all teams, but specifically the Jaguars. He led all tight ends in catches (110), receiving yards (1,338) and receiving touchdowns (12) this season. Meanwhile, the Jaguars allowed the third-most receiving yards (1,087) and third-highest yards per reception (13.1) against tight ends in the NFL this regular season. Jacksonville additionally surrenders the fifth-most yards after catch per reception to tight ends, a Kelce specialty.
Kelce statistics/Jaguars defending tight ends in 2022
|Travis Kelce||Jaguars vs. Tight Ends|
* Most in NFL among tight ends
** Third-most in NFL vs. tight ends
Kelce also comes to play when the lights shine the brightest since he has six straight playoff games with 90 or more receiving yards (longest streak in postseason history). The 33-year-old only needs 99 more receiving yards to pass Rob Gronkowski for the most playoff receiving yards by a tight end (1,389) and for the third-most overall in the playoffs all time. Mahomes tied the record for most passing touchdowns to his tight ends and running backs (28), which was set by Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle in 1963. If the Jaguars can keep Kelce down and out of the end zone, the possibility of an upset becomes more realistic as he's still working to build chemistry with a fresh group of wide receivers.
3. Lawrence takes advantage of the Chiefs' porous secondary
The Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-point comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers, the third-largest in NFL playoff history, didn't happen by accident. A lot of things had to go the Jaguars' way, including Lawrence making the in-game transformation from Zach Wilson to Mahomes, which he did by throwing touchdowns on four straight drives after the first six drives ended with four interceptions and two punts. Lawrence made history, becoming the second player all time to throw four touchdowns and four interceptions in a playoff game. He joined retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks to do so. One key difference between the performances: Roethlisberger lost his game 48-37 against the Cleveland Browns in the 2020 AFC wild card.
Lawrence in playoff debut vs. Chargers
Thankfully for Lawrence, his degree of difficulty will decrease in the divisional round. The Chiefs secondary allowed the most passing touchdowns (33) in the league this regular season and the second-highest red zone touchdown rate (67.3%), ahead of only the Indianapolis Colts (67.9%).
Chiefs defense by the numbers this season
Opp Pass TD
Opp Passer Rating
Opp Red Zone TD Pct
His best time to strike would be when Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo dials up the blitz. The two-time Super Bowl-winning defensive play-caller is notorious for his love of the blitz, but the Chiefs blitz at the 14th-lowest rate in the league because they allow the sixth-highest passer rating (104.4) when blitzing.
Lawrence has thrived when pressured this way in 2022, throwing 11 touchdowns against the blitz in the regular season, tied with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen for the fifth-most in the NFL. His 107.8 passer in blitz situations is also one of the best in the league, ranked seventh in the NFL. Hitting Christian Kirk was Lawrence's answer the last time these two teams played in Week 10. He should factor into the game plan heavily once again.
Passing vs. blitz this season
|Trevor Lawrence||Chiefs Defense|
The Chiefs pass defense is beatable, but in order for that to happen, Lawrence must not commit the same errors he did in the first chunk of last week's game against the Chargers. If he plays a clean game, Jacksonville will have a chance.