Strength meets strength as unbeaten Chiefs welcome Jags
New starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have taken the NFL by storm, racing out to a 4-0 start despite playing three of those games on the road. Mahomes has thrown for 1,200 yards with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions, and the Chiefs are the highest scoring team in the NFL. Kansas City also has allowed the most yards in the NFL and rank 25th in scoring defense, but it has mattered little the way the offense has been rolling.
Kansas City now gets three of its next four at home, starting Sunday against Jacksonville. The Jaguars have also started strong at 3-1, but they’ve done it mostly with defense. The Jags have allowed the fewest yards and points per game in the NFL, including just four touchdowns in four games. The Jacksonville offense hasn’t been as bad as Kansas City's defense, but it has been careless with the ball and generally inconsistent.
Can Mahomes stay hot even against the NFL’s best defense? Can Blake Bortles and the Jaguars take advantage of the Chiefs defense and win a shootout on the road? We’re about to find out.
Jacksonville at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -3
Three Things to Watch
1. All eyes on Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes turned the first month of the NFL season into his personal coming-out party. Mahomes has looked like a veteran as opposed to a second-year player who started just one game last season. He’s been nearly flawless, even completing a pass left-handed Monday night as he rallied the Chiefs past the Broncos. Perhaps most impressive from that game was that Mahomes faced some adversity for the first time and responded. While he generally had his way piling up big plays all over the place in the season’s first three games, the Broncos made him work. Denver held the Chiefs to 13 points through three quarters and led 23-13 when Mahomes got the ball with 12:47 left in the game. All he did from there on out was hit 16-of-19 passes for 186 yards. So far, you can slow Mahomes down, but no one has been able to stop him.
2. The Jags' defense has been solid, but...
The Jaguars certainly are as equipped as anyone to stop the Chiefs offensive juggernaut. They are allowing an NFL-best 164.3 passing yards per game and rank seventh in passer rating allowed. And they have improved their run defense since last season, allowing only 95 yards per game and jumping from 22nd in the NFL last season to 10th this season. The only thing missing has been the big plays: The Jaguars have forced just three turnovers in four games after ranking second with 33 takeaways last season. They also ranked second in sacks last season with 55 but have just 10 so far this season, which is tied for 12th in the NFL. Mahomes proved last week he’s not just a gunslinger; he can play mistake-free and beat you with patience. Jacksonville needs to somehow get him out of his comfort zone and force mistakes.
3. Which Bortles will we get?
Blake Bortles is a polarizing quarterback. The Jags swear by him and believe he can finish the job after leading them to the doorstep of the Super Bowl last season, but he’s nothing if not inconsistent. When he’s on, he looks as good as anyone: In wins this season over the Patriots and the Jets, Bortles was outstanding, throwing for 376 and 388 yards, respectively, and averaging a healthy 9.2 yards per attempt. But in the other two games against the Giants and Titans, he threw for 330 yards combined and averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt. Even if his defense rises to the challenge and slows the Chiefs down, Bortles needs to be at his best to get the best of Mahomes in Arrowhead.
The NFL has moved away from the classic “defense wins championships” philosophy, and it’s not coming back. Teams like the Chiefs are the future of the NFL. You have to score to win and safe is dead. That said, you still have to be able to play a little defense, and Kansas City is playing with fire asking its offense to light up the scoreboard every week because its defense can’t stop anyone. This week they get burned by a more balanced team.