Jaguars-Chiefs divisional round best bets: Kansas City's early edge
Trevor Lawrence couldn't stop throwing interceptions. Whether it was because of a bad read, a bad throw, great coverage, or a great catch by the defense, Lawrence threw four picks in the first half of his first playoff game. Coming off of a do-or-die game against Tennessee where Lawrence was bailed out by a Jaguars defensive touchdown, it looked like Jacksonville and its young quarterback were cooked. Then the stars aligned in the second half, and the Jaguars came back from 27-0 to pull off a 31-30 win versus the Chargers.
Now Lawrence and the Jaguars go to Kansas City to face the rested and experienced Chiefs, who've been somewhat out of sight and out of mind for bettors given their bye.
Jaguars @ Chiefs (-8.5, 52.5)
The Chiefs have been here before. This is the fourth season in a row where Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and Co. won't have to play a road playoff game. (However, they could potentially face the Bills in the AFC Championship Game in Atlanta.)
Jaguars-Chiefs is a rematch of a Week 10 game where the Chiefs toggled between 9.5- and 10-point favorites all week. The Chiefs' rating hasn't changed - they remain highly thought of - but the Jaguars' rating has increased.
Kansas City won that first matchup at Arrowhead Stadium comfortably 27-17 despite losing the turnover margin by three. The game featured a somewhat troubling trend for the Jaguars this season - slow starts:
|Week 9||vs. Raiders||Down 10|
|Week 10||@ Chiefs||Down 13|
|Week 13||@ Lions||Down 17|
|Week 15||vs. Cowboys||Down 14|
These first halves are actually flattering to the Jaguars. They were down 17-0 to the Raiders and 20-0 to the Chiefs, they lost by 24 in Detroit, and they trailed by 17 to the Cowboys. Meanwhile, they fell behind in both games against the Titans in Weeks 14 and 18. Of course, the Jaguars pulled off comeback wins against Las Vegas, Dallas, and the Ravens - who they trailed by nine heading into the fourth quarter.
There's nothing much to learn about the Chiefs' offense. This team is so dialed-in that it has extra time to practice choreographed huddle dances that lead into trick plays. Defensively, though, Kansas City fortified its glaring weakness by drafting George Karlaftis and Trent McDuffie in the first round, as well as adding Carlos Dunlap for pass-rushing depth.
While the Chiefs should get pressure on Lawrence, McDuffie, the rookie cornerback, is the key. Kansas City went through a spell where its pass defense was among the worst in the NFL, allowing 7.6 yards per pass attempt while McDuffie was out from Week 2 to Week 7. Despite that rough stretch, the Chiefs finished sixth in the NFL in YPA.
In their previous four playoff openers, the Chiefs led by a combined score of 92-41, a disparity that would be much larger were it not for Kansas City spotting Houston 24 points before winning its 2019 divisional round game 51-31.
Out of respect for the Jaguars' will to stay in the game, we'll avoid backing Kansas City as big favorites, where they've struggled to cover. Instead, we'll expect Reid's Chiefs to hone their script and have a decent-sized halftime lead off of the bye.
Pick: Chiefs -5.5 (First half)
Travis Etienne under 67.5 rushing yards
Maybe we got away with one last week. We cashed on Travis Etienne having a long rush of more than 17.5 yards on his last carry, which was a fourth-down gamble. Etienne had a hard time cracking the Chargers' woeful run defense in his first 19 carries, and he shouldn't be expected to have the same volume Saturday. Even 4.4 yards per carry - which the Chiefs allowed on average this season - on a generous 15 rushes keeps Etienne under this prescribed total.
Travis Kelce over 80.5 receiving yards
Call it familiarity, but AFC West opponents had decent success in guarding Travis Kelce this season. In six games, Kelce averaged just 57.1 yards per contest, even including a 115-yard night in Los Angeles. That means no one outside the division knew what to do with him.
Given Kelce's season-long average of 80 yards per game, the Mahomes-to-Kelce combination is seemingly a bigger problem than expected for teams that don't see it twice per season.
The Jaguars gave up the most yardage to opposing tight ends this season and just allowed 109 yards to Gerald Everett. They might not have the personnel to deal with Kelce.
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.