Jacksonville (+8.5) @ Kansas City
Power rankings: Jax 10, Kansas City 2
Spread update: This line is sticking at 8.5.
Keys to the game: With a game total of 53, this game projects to be a slug fest. The Jaguars offense sits at 9th in DVOA and 8th in EPA/play. The Chiefs defense, meanwhile, is 17th in DVOA and 15th in EPA/play. The focus on the matchup should be with the pass game -- the Jags are 8.5 point dogs and are facing a high powered Chiefs offense. Running the ball often simply won't be an option. In this area the Jags have an advantage -- their passing offense is 6th in DVOA vs a Chiefs pass defense that ranks 20th. The rise of the Jaguars offense coincides with Trevor Lawrence's improved play. Since week 9 of the regular season, Lawrence ranks 6th in PFF grades (86.4) while completing 67.2% of his passes and gaining 7.2 yards per attempt. Stylistically, Lawrence prefers shorter passes -- his average depth of target of 7.8 yards per attempt ranks 29th in the league (out of 40) and his screen pass rate of 14.2% ranks 6th highest. That works out against the Chiefs who are better against deep passes (14th in DVOA) then short passes (24th). Lawrence is also significantly better from a clean pocket (3rd best PFF grade) then under pressure (6th worst), which isn't ideal against a Chiefs defense that ranks 5th in pressure rate (24.9%). That said, it's not exactly easy to get to Lawrence, his 28.6% pressure rate is 7th best in the NFL. There's two primary reasons for this -- Lawrence's quick time to throw (2.5 seconds) and an offensive line that excels in pass protection (but is one of the worst run blocking units in the league). The biggest concern comes from DT Chris Jones, who finished 1st among all defensive tackles in PFF grades and 5th among anybody in total pressures (he had the most pressures among tackles). The Chiefs have routinely rotated Jones to put him against the weak link of the opposing offense. In this instance, that's RG Brandon Scherff (27 pressures allowed, 20 most among guards) and C Luke Fortner (33 pressures allowed, 2nd most among centers). Outside of Jones, the Chiefs don't have many pass rushers that should scare the Jags -- rookie George Karlaftis (48 pressures) and Frank Clark (45) are 2nd and 3rd on the team in total pressures, but neither have a pass rush win rate over 13%. To keep Lawrence clean, the Jaguars need to dedicate heavy resources to Jones and rely on their other lineman to win one on one. The Jaguars top options at receiver: Christian Kirk (slot), Zay Jones (wide), and Evan Engram (tight end). The Chiefs have a pair of strong corners in L'Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie. McDuffie, a rookie first rounder out of Washington, has come on strong after injuring his hamstring week 1 of the regular season. Since returning in week 9, he's allowed a 57.8% completion percentage into his coverage and earned a 76.0 coverage grade from PFF. He'll take on slot duties when the Chiefs are in nickel, which we'll mean he'll see plenty of Christian Kirk. Lawrence should pick on CB Jaylen Watson, a 7th round rookie out of Washington St who has a 56.5 PFF coverage grade. As for Engram, the Chiefs rank 19th in DVOA against tight ends, but they have several options capable of covering tight ends, including LB Nick Bolton, LB Willie Gay Jr., and S Justin Reid. As for the run game, I'm not expecting much -- although the Jaguars have a strong running back in Travis Etienne (he finished with 1,229 rushing yards and averaged 5.1 yards per attempt) -- their run blocking is one of the worst in football and the run game ranks 20th in DVOA. Etienne isn't used much as a receiver -- he caught just 35 balls all season -- but the Chiefs defense ranks 28th in DVOA against running backs as a receiver, so it may be something they look to as an additional option.
The Chiefs offense hasn't missed a beat since moving on from Tyreek Hill in the offseason. They're 1st in both offensive DVOA and EPA/play. Pat Mahomes -- the likely MVP of the 2022 regular season, is 2nd in PFF grades, 1st in ESPN's QBR metric, and 1st in Football Outsider's DYAR. Mahomes doesn't quite go after the deep ball as much as you'd think -- his average depth of target of 7.7 yards is 30th highest in the league (41 qualifiers) and his deep passing rate (20+ yards in the air) of 9.7% is 29th highest (38 qualifiers). It certainly helps playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football and having the best tight end to target in the pass game. It'll also help facing a Jaguars defense that is 26th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play -- the disparity comes due to the fact that DVOA is opponent adjusted and EPA/play isn't, and the Jaguars had the easiest schedule of opposing offenses. They're also significantly worse against the pass (30th in DVOA) then the run (11th). The best part of the Jaguars defense is their pass rush -- despite a modest blitz rate of 23.1%, they rank 4th best in pressure rate at 25.1%. Their pressure will primarily come from 3 edge rushers - Josh Allen, Arden Key, and Trayvon Walker. Allen is the best of the bunch -- his 75 pressures this season is 8th best in the league. He's also been primarily lining up in the left side as of late, where he'll face off against the one weak point of the Chiefs offensive line, RT Andrew Wylie. Wylie's 49 pressures surrendered this season was 3rd most in the NFL. Key and Walker typically line up on the left side where they'll have a much more difficult matchup against LT Orlando Brown. As most know, Walker was the top selection in this years draft over fellow edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, a vote of confidence in athletic traits over on the field production. Walker finished the season with 41 pressures, but he's played far better as of late -- he notched 5 pressures last week against the Chargers and is averaging 3.2 pressures per game in his last 5 games. Key doesn't quite play as much as Walker and Allen, but he's no slouch himself -- his 18.2% pass rush win rate is best on the team and 23rd best in the league. The Jaguars issues are essentially everywhere else -- they're weak everywhere at coverage with the exception of CB Tyson Campbell, who finished 6th in PFF grades among corners and is allowing an 80 QB rating into his coverage. Their issues at coverage linebacker and safety have led to a dead last rating into DVOA against tight ends, which is a horrendous sign when trying to cover Kelce. The Chiefs top receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, runs 41% of his routes from the slot where he'll avoid Cambpell and instead face off against Tre Herndon, a 2018 UDFA who has struggled in all 5 of his NFL seasons. The Jaguars are also much better against deep passes (13th in DVOA) and short passes (31st), which doesn't fit well stylistically against the Chiefs. The matchup in the run game is far more even (the Chiefs are 9th in rushing offense DVOA vs 11th for the Jags), but Kansas City is a pass first team, ranking 2nd in situation-neutral passing situations.
Kansas City is going to score points, luckily we have 8.5 points to work with.