On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country— our sister SBNation site covering the Jacksonville Jaguars— for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1. What have been the reasons for the Jaguars’ dramatic turnaround?
There are a multitude of reasons for the turnaround, but three main ones that stick out to me are Doug Pederson and the coaching staff, the ascension of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the confidence and attitude of the team as a whole.
The difference between Doug Pederson and Urban Meyer as the franchise’s head coach is hard to explain in an elegant way. Simply put, it is is a night and day difference between Pederson — an actual NFL head coach who is a master play-caller and schemer, and a person who has won Super Bowls as both a player and coach — and Meyer, who is, well, let’s just say... none of those things. The players have commented on how much impact the coaching has made this season. It is easy to see how much love and respect they have for Pederson. He has built a really strong staff as well. It is clear the players believe in him and play for him.
Doug Pederson is just one of the guys @NFLFilms | @SUBWAY pic.twitter.com/bYQlrfv7OV— NFL (@NFL) January 19, 2023
Lawrence’s development under Pederson is also night and day under Pederson’s tutelage. After struggling mightily as a rookie, he had a phenomenal campaign in his second season, and is only going to get better from here. I think the mental fortitude Lawrence showed last week after throwing four interceptions in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers before then throwing four-straight touchdowns and leading a 27-point comeback is just a testament to who he is as a player and person.
Last week’s comeback in the AFC Wild Card round also illustrated the team’s personality as a whole. The Jaguars won’t back down from anybody, will compete with any opponent and never feel like they are out of a game. This is a confident team hitting its stride at the exact right time.
2. The Jaguars invested a lot in the wide receiver room. Is that paying dividends now? Who has been the standout?
A lot was made about the Jaguars giving wide receiver Christian Kirk a big contract (four years, $72 million). But the way the contract is broken down — and the way that Kirk has performed this year — it actually may end up being a steal. He led the team in the regular season with 84 catches, 1,108 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, quickly becoming Lawrence’s favorite target. He set a career-high in all of those categories, and also had eight catches for 78 yards in the Wild Card game.
Additionally, the Jaguars signed wide receiver Zay Jones to a three-year, $24 million contract and tight end Evan Engram to a one-year, $9 million deal. Jones set career-highs in catches (82) and yards (823) while adding five touchdowns. Engram also set career-highs with 73 catches for 766 yards while adding four touchdowns.
All three of them recorded over 766 receiving yards and at least 73 receptions, while combining for 17 touchdowns. I would say the investments in pass-catchers certainly paid off.
3. The Chargers benefited from a lot of short fields on Saturday night. How important is it for the Jaguars to take better care of the football?
Taking care of the ball is of the utmost importance this week (and really every week), and I am sure Pederson and the staff put an emphasis on limiting turnovers. Against a team like the Chiefs, however, it is absolutely vital that the Jaguars win the turnover battle. The Chiefs are a better overall team, and arguably the best team in the NFL. The Jaguars cannot afford to give Patrick Mahomes and company extra possessions or short fields — because Kansas City can already score at will as it is.
If the Jaguars get down in an early 27-0 hole again, there will likely not be an epic comeback against the Chiefs. Kansas City is too talented offensively to go stagnant like Los Angeles did. So sustaining drives and taking care of the football needs to be at the top of the priority list for the Jaguars.
4. Which Chiefs player not named Patrick or Travis scares you the most?
On defense, Chris Jones is a game-wrecker and can make a big impact. Jacksonville’s offensive line needs to limit his effectives and keep him off of Lawrence.
Offensively, I have a strange feeling that Kadarius Toney is going to break out. I think Andy Reid and the Chiefs could find creative ways to get him the ball in space. Quite frankly, the Chiefs have weapons everywhere, though.
5. The Chiefs are 9-point favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you think the spread is fair? How do you see this game going?
I think it is a fair spread because the Chiefs are the top seed in the AFC and playing at home. Kansas City has also already beaten Jacksonville by 10 points, but the Jaguars have played a lot better since then. I actually like the Jaguars to cover, but the Chiefs to win here. The Jaguars will fight and show resilience, but the Chiefs are ultimately too much to handle for a young Jacksonville squad. I could see these two teams being top contenders in the AFC — and becoming rivals — for the next few years.
Kansas City 31, Jacksonville 24
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.