Saturday NFL Preview, Week 18: Chiefs hope to lock up home field advantage while Jaguars, Titans battle for AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) celebrates his first quarter touchdown with quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16). The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the New York Giants at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL Sunday, October 23, 2022. The Jaguars trailed at the half 11 to 13. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union] Jki 102322 Hsfb Bs Jaguars Vs Giants 52

Saturday NFL Preview, Week 18: Chiefs hope to lock up home field advantage while Jaguars, Titans battle for AFC South

Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-10)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. CT/ESPN

The Kansas City Chiefs will head to Las Vegas for the second installment of their 2022 divisional rivalry with the Raiders, and Kansas City has plenty to play for. The Chiefs can earn the AFC’s top seed regardless of what happens in Saturday afternoon’s game, but might not earn home-field advantage in a potential AFC title game unless they beat Las Vegas.

With Monday night’s game between the Bills and Bengals not being completed, the NFL announced Friday after a vote amongst the league’s team owners that a potential AFC Championship Game “will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the number one seed.” Kansas City can avoid that situation altogether with a 14th win, ensuring they would play all AFC playoff games at home.

When the Chiefs and Raiders met during Week 5 in Kansas City, the Chiefs held on for a 30-29 win after trailing by as many as 17. Quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams connected for 124 yards and two touchdowns in that game while running back Josh Jacobs posted an explosive 154 yards rushing and a score of his own. The Raiders have since benched quarterback Derek Carr in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham, a decision made before last Sunday’s game that felt like an admission that their season’s goals were out of reach. Stidham exceeded expectations in the Raiders’ loss to San Francisco, passing for 365 yards and two touchdowns, but was ultimately undone by two interceptions – including one in overtime that set up the 49ers’ game-winning field goal.

The Chiefs know they’ll have their hands full with the Raiders’ offense. Las Vegas averages 29.1 points per game when they play at home and would love nothing more than to make things complicated for the Chiefs by defeating them. The Raiders’ last nine games have all been decided by a touchdown or less. One big question mark for Las Vegas is running back Josh Jacobs, who has missed two practices this week for “personal reasons” and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Tennessee Titans (7-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN

Week 18 in the NFL is always a week of exclusively divisional games, and none of this week’s divisional matchups is more impactful than the Tennessee Titans’ battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The winner of Saturday night’s game at TIAA Bank Stadium will also win the AFC South title, clinching at least a wild-card round playoff game at home.

Just four weeks ago, Jacksonville was 4-8. Hardly anyone imagined heading into the Jaguars’ Dec. 11 game at 7-5 Tennessee that they’d have any chance of making the playoffs. Jacksonville won that game 36-22, but it never felt that close – and in the weeks that have followed, the Jaguars have continued to win. Now 8-8, the Jaguars are a definitive favorite to capture an AFC South title over the Titans. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s improvement has led the way for Jacksonville – during the Jags’ four-game winning streak, Lawrence has passed for seven touchdowns with just two interceptions and has been sacked only three times.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has seen its season devolve into a free fall. The Titans’ losing streak began two weeks before the Jaguars’ visit to Nashville and now sits at six games. Tennessee has been without quarterback Ryan Tannehill for several weeks now, and has moved on from backup quarterback Malik Willis in favor of Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs made his first start last Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, a 27-13 loss for Tennessee. He completed 20-of-39 passes for 232 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Titans also played last week’s game without several other key contributors, most notably missing running back Derrick Henry. This week, Henry is expected to play, as are defensive linemen Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons. A win on the road in Jacksonville would forgive a lot of sins for the Titans, who have lost three games during their current six-game slide by at least two touchdowns.

If the Titans are to pull off the upset, they’ll need to push the Jaguars around in the run game. Jacksonville’s 11th-ranked rush defense won’t make that easy, but Derrick Henry has put up staggering career numbers versus the Jaguars. Henry averaged 7.1 yards per carry on Dec. 11 against Jacksonville, but the Jaguars most likely respect Ryan Tannehill’s ability in the passing game more than they do Joshua Dobbs’. For Derrick Henry, producing similar results in the run game won’t just be more difficult Saturday night – it will be a necessity if the Titans are to return to the playoffs.

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