JACKSONVILLE – This is important, maybe critically so.
How important is Jaguars-Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Sunday? As important as any Jaguars regular-season game in a long, long time.
That's true beyond deciding if the Jaguars' No. 1-ranked scoring defense or the Chiefs' No. 1-ranked scoring offense is the greater of two football superpowers.
This game figures to matter in the postseason picture, and it figures to matter quite a lot.
No, it's not a division game.
And yes, 11 games will remain afterward for both teams. However the standings look Sunday night they might look very different in January. But consider:
The Jaguars enter Sunday 3-1, and trail Tennessee in the AFC South because of a tiebreaker. The Chiefs enter Sunday 4-0 leading the AFC West. These look like potential playoff teams, perhaps division winners. It's early, but not too early to think these teams might play in January.
If the Chiefs win Sunday, they will lead the Jaguars by two games with a head-to-head tiebreaker edge. That means the Jaguars likely would need to win three more games than the Chiefs in the teams' final 11 games for a Jaguars-Chiefs playoff game to be in Jacksonville. That's doable, but it's a steep climb.
A Jaguars victory would guarantee nothing, but it would leave no AFC team with a better record through five games. That means the Jaguars would "control their destiny," a phrase more often heard in December but still applicable in early October.
So, yes … get excited about Sunday's matchups. Get excited about the star power:
Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill for the Chiefs' offense …
Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, Telvin Smith, A.J. Bouye for the Jaguars' defense …
The lists go on for both teams. But beyond the stars, this is a big one for the goals of both teams -- maybe epically big. And a Jaguars victory would keep a lot of important things very attainable.
Here are 10 things that must happen for that to happen:
1.Score early.The Chiefs' offense is as confident, hot and talented as any in the NFL. Coming from behind against elite, hot confident offenses is difficult. The Jaguars must score early and make the Chiefs' offense pass against a Jaguars defense that knows it must pass. That will make the Jaguars' pass rush and secondary all the more effective.
2.Get an early turnover …The Jaguars must break serve early. Remember the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh in January? How Jack's interception helped give the Jaguars an early two-touchdown lead? Something like that.
3. … and return it for a touchdown.Remember how Smith's fumble return in that same Divisional Playoff kept the Jaguars' first-half advantage at double digits? Something like that, too.
4.Sack Mahomes.The Chiefs' second-year quarterback is dynamic. He has a powerful arm. He's dangerous outside the pocket. He's difficult to sack. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone used the letters "M," "V" and "P" when describing him this week – and Marrone wasn't wrong. Still, the Jaguars were built to win this type of game. Even if it's difficult, pressuring – and sacking Mahomes – is critical Sunday. A few sacks must happen. And the pressure must be constant.
5.Stop the run.The Chiefs haven't been a great running team yet this season, but they're dangerous in that area – very dangerous, actually. The speed of Smith and Jack at linebacker must negate the explosiveness of Hunt and Hill out of the backfield. If the Chiefs run consistently, the Jaguars will be in trouble.
6.Don't be fooled.The Chiefs are exotic on offense; they use motion, multiple formations, weird looks and a lot of misdirection. The Jaguars blitz on occasion, but they're not exotic; they're just good. Their talent must negate the Chiefs' exotic offense. It's capable of doing that
7.Keep the ball away from KC punt returner.Hill is dangerous as a punt returner – very dangerous, actually. Jaguars rookie punter Logan Cooke has been outstanding pinning opponents in their own territory. His ability to keep the ball away from Hill could be critical.
8.Run – and get the backs involved in the passing game.The Jaguars won't have running back Leonard Fournette. That's a shame. Backup T.J. Yeldon has been dealing with an ankle injury. That's also a shame. Shame or not, the Jaguars need to run against a Chiefs defense that has been vulnerable in that area.
9.Negate Dee Ford/Justin Houston.The Chiefs' defense is struggling. One area it hasn't struggled is the outside pass rush of Ford and Houston. This is a big game for Jaguars right tackle Jermey Parnell and left tackle Josh Wells. They must negate the pass rush, because nothing may be bigger for this matchup than …
10.Blake Bortles.He'll be overlooked in the pregame hype. He'll be criticized, because someone always finds a way to criticize him. But he'll be key Sunday. He has thrown for six touchdowns and nearly 800 yards in his two best games this season and struggled in the other two. He must take advantage of the opportunities that will be there against a struggling Chiefs' defense. If he's as efficient as he has been when he has been "on" this season, the Jaguars will win this very important game.